Estimating Pediatric Primary Care Provider Visits In a Capitated Environment: Encounter vs. Claims Databases


Purpose. To evaluate the accuracy of insurance claims data indicating underutilization of primary care visits by children with special health care needs (CSHCN).

Design. The study was a retrospective comparison of primary care provider (PCP) utilization by 1,131 CSHCN, using secondary data from electronic claims-and-encounters databases in a Medicaid health maintenance organization (HMO) and a commercial HMO.

Methodology. The study was conducted at the Children’s Clinics for Rehabilitative Services (Children’s Clinics) in Tucson, Ariz., a provider of specialty care to CSHCN. All the children in the study were eligible for specialty services under Arizona’s statewide program for CSHCN and were simultaneously enrolled, from Oct. 1, 1995 through Sept. 30, 1996, in either one or both of the managed care plans for their primary care. Identical PCP-visit information for the same 1-year period was collected from the plans’ claims-and-encounters databases, and the number of primary care visits as computed from both databases was compared.

Principal findings. Health plan claims data show that only 14 percent of the patients visited a PCP during the course of a year. The encounter data indicate that 59 percent of the same cohort had PCP visits.

Conclusions. Encounter databases capture more information about PCP visits than insurance claims databases in capitated environments.

Key terms: utilization; insurance; physician services; primary health care; children

This study was supported by a grant from the Flinn Foundation.

This paper has undergone peer review by appropriate members of Managed Care’s Editorial Advisory Board.