The influence of patient age on primary care resident physician-patient interaction

Edward J Callahan, Klea D Bertakis, Rahman Azari, John A Robbins, L. Jay Helms, Dong W. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To explore resident physician-patient interaction in primary care to address issues relevant to quality of care for older people. DESIGN: A sample of 509 new, adult, nonpregnant patients was assigned to the care of second- and third-year residents in primary care clinics. Care was compared for three subgroups of patients: older patients (65 years or older; n = 45), those aged 18 to 44 years (n = 320), and those aged 45 to 64 years (n = 144). SETTING: Observations were made at the family medicine and general internal medicine clinics at the University of California, Davis. MEASUREMENTS: Self- report by means of the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (MOS SF-36) was used to determine patient demographics and patient health status. Two measures of satisfaction were obtained gauging reaction to medical care in general and to the videotaped visit specifically. Videotapes were coded for content using the Davis Observation Code. RESULTS: Self-reported health status of older persons was poorer than that of younger groups as measured by the MOS SF-36. Differences in demographics were explored and then controlled, along with physical health status in subsequent analyses. Supporting prior studies, this study found that older patients had more return visits and reported higher levels of satisfaction than did younger comparison groups. Contrary to prior literature, older patients were found to have longer visits than did younger cohorts. The physician-patient interaction was significantly different in many areas between these three groups. Whereas older patients experienced more chatting in their visits, they were given less counseling, asked fewer questions, had less discussion about their families and their use of substances, were asked to change their health behavior habits less often, and were given less health education. For older patients, more of each visit was spent checking on compliance with earlier treatment and developing treatment plans. CONCLUSIONS: These results provide a new and more detailed view of how resident physician-patient interaction differs between older and younger groups and raise important issues on whether quality of care needs for this population are being adequately addressed, particularly regarding mental health issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-35
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000


  • Direct observation
  • Health status
  • Older people
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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