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Medicare Beneficiaries With a Specialist as Their Personal Doctor Report Better Experiences With Care

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Health plans often require that patients have a personal doctor. Older adults rely on specialists for much of their care and may use a specialist in this role, but little is known about how many or which Medicare beneficiaries use specialists as their personal doctor and how their care experiences differ from others’.


To examine the prevalence and characteristics of Medicare beneficiaries with a specialist as a personal doctor and compare their patient experiences and immunization to other beneficiaries’.

Research Design:

Logistic regression predicted having a specialist as a personal doctor from beneficiary characteristics. Doubly-robust models compared 7 patient experience and 2 immunization measures for beneficiaries with and without a specialist as their personal doctor. Interactions of a specialist indicator and beneficiary characteristics tested for moderators.

Study Population:

A total of 227,642 Medicare beneficiaries aged 65+ who reported having a personal doctor on the 2014 Medicare CAHPS survey.


In total, 20% of beneficiaries reported that their personal doctor was a specialist, fewer than previously reported for the most frequently visited physician (43%); beneficiaries who were older, less healthy, less educated, racial/ethnic minorities, had fee-for-service coverage, or had lower income were more likely to do so. They also reported better patient experiences than those with nonspecialist personal physicians on 6 of 7 measures and more immunizations; the largest difference was for care coordination. Having a specialist personal doctor was associated with particularly positive patient experience for low income, Black, Hispanic, and less healthy beneficiaries.


Future research should investigate whether specialists as personal doctors may reduce patient-experience disparities for vulnerable patients.

Keywords: patient centered care; patient surveys; physician specialty; primary care

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA 2: Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College, RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, PA 3: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Baltimore, MD 4: RAND Corporation, Boston, MA

Publication date: June 1, 2019

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