Physician response to patient request for unnecessary care

Sapna Kaul, Anne C. Kirchhoff, Nancy E. Morden, Christine S. Vogeli, Eric G. Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Objectives: Evaluating unnecessary US medical practices, and the strategies that reduce them, are increasingly recognized as crucial to healthcare financing sustainability. Provider factors are known to affect unnecessary medical practices, yet little is known about how physician responses to patient requests for unnecessary care affect these practices. Among primary care physicians (PCPs), we investigated 2 types of unnecessary medical practices triggered by patient requests: a) unnecessary specialty referrals and b) prescriptions for brand-name drugs when generic alternatives are available. Study Design and Methods: We used data from a survey of a nationally representative sample of 840 US PCPs in 2009. Response rates for family practice (n = 274), internal medicine (n = 257), and pediatrics (n = 309) were 67.5%, 60.8%, and 72.7%, respectively. Results: In response to patient requests, 51.9% of PCPs reported making unnecessary specialty referrals and 38.7% prescribed brand-name drugs. Family physicians (odds ratio [OR], 2.77; 95% CI, 1.77-4.34) and internal medicine physicians (OR, 4.51; 95% CI, 2.87-7.06) were more likely than pediatricians to prescribe brand-name drugs. PCP specialty was similarly associated with unnecessary referrals. Other predictors of acquiescence to patient requests included interactions with drug/device representatives, more years of clinical experience, seeing fewer safety net patients, and solo/2-person practice organizations. Area-level Medicare spending was not associated with the 2 unnecessary practices. Conclusions: Many PCPs reported acquiescing to patient requests for unnecessary care. Provider and organizational factors predicted this behavior. Policies aimed at reducing such practice could improve care quality and lower cost. Patient and physician incentives that can potentially reduce unnecessary medical practices warrant exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)823-832
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Managed Care
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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