Background. The primary care physician serving as a 'gatekeeper' can make judicious decisions about the appropriate use of medical services, and thereby contribute to containing costs while improving the quality of care. However, in Israel, sick funds competing for members have not adopted this model for fear of endangering their competitive stance. The purpose of this study was to examine, for the first time, the stated preferences and actual behaviour of a national sample of members of the four Israeli sick funds regarding self-referral to specialists, and to identify the characteristics of patients who prefer the gatekeeper model. Methods. Data were derived from a national telephone survey carried out in 1997. A random representative sample of 1084 of all adult sick fund members were interviewed, with a response rate of 81%. Bivariate analysis was conducted using over all chi-square tests, and multivariate analysis was performed using logistic regression models. Results. A third of all respondents prefer self-referral to a specialist, 40% prefer their family physician to act as gatekeeper and 19% prefer the physician to co-ordinate care but to refer themselves to a specialist. Independent variables predicting preference for the gatekeeper model are: living in the periphery, sick fund membership, low level of education, being male, fair or poor health status, having a permanent family physician and being satisfied with the professional level of the family physician. A significant correlation was found between practising self-referral and preference for self-referral. Conclusions. The findings indicate the importance of surveying patients' attitudes as an input in policy formulation. The study identified specific population groups which prefer the gatekeeper model, and explored the advantages of a flexible model of gatekeeping.
- Patient surveys
- Primary care