In most countries, the general practitioner (GP) is the first point of contact in the healthcare system and coordinator of healthcare. However, in Germany it is possible to consult an outpatient specialist even without referral. Coordination by a GP might thus reduce health expenditures and inequalities in the healthcare system. The study describes the patients’ willingness/commitment to use the GP as coordinator of healthcare and identifies regional and patient-related factors associated with the aforementioned commitment to the GP.
Cross-sectional observational study using a standardised telephone patient survey in northern Germany. All counties and independent cities within a radius of 120 km around Hamburg were divided into three regional categories (urban areas, environs, rural areas) and stratified proportionally to the population size. Patients who had consulted the GP within the previous three months, and had been patients of the practice for at least three years were randomly selected from medical records of primary care practices in these districts and recruited for the study. Multivariate linear regression models adjusted for random effects at the level of federal states, administrative districts and practices were used as statistical analysis methods.
Eight hundred eleven patients (25.1%) from 186 practices and 34 administrative districts were interviewed. The patient commitment to a GP attained an average of 20 out of 24 possible points. Significant differences were found by sex (male vs. female: + 1.14 points, p < 0.001), morbidity (+ 0.10 per disease, p = 0.043), education (high vs. low: − 1.74, p < 0.001), logarithmised household net adjusted disposable income (− 0.93 per step on the logarithmic scale, p = 0.004), regional category (urban areas: − 0.85, p = 0.022; environs: − 0.80, p = 0.045) and healthcare utilisation (each GP contact: + 0.30, p < 0.001; each contact to a medical specialist: − 0.75, p = 0.018). Professional situation and age were not significantly associated with the GP commitment.
On average, the patients’ commitment to their GP was relatively strong, but there were large differences between patient groups. An increase in the patient commitment to the GP could be achieved through better patient information and targeted interventions, e.g. to women or patients from regions of higher urban density.