ABSTRACT [FROM JOURNAL]
Objectives: Triage algorithms are ubiquitous in emergency care settings, but the extent of their use in primary care is unknown. This study asks whether primary care practices prioritize patients with more acute service needs.
Methods: We used an audit study in which simulated patients were randomized to 2 clinical scenarios—a new patient seeking a routine check-up or a new patient seeking treatment for newly diagnosed hypertension—and attempted to schedule appointments with thousands of randomly selected primary care physicians across 10 states. We estimated the difference in appointment availability by clinical scenario. For scheduled appointments, we also estimated the difference in wait times by clinical scenario.
Results: While there was no difference in appointment availability, the mean wait time for simulated patients seeking a routine check-up was nearly 5 days longer than the mean wait time for simulated patients with hypertension.
Conclusions: As demand for primary care increases while the supply remains stable, it will be important for practices to identify and prioritize patients with more acute service needs. Our results show that primary carephysicians are already adopting such practices.