Association between primary care appointment lengths and subsequent ambulatory reassessment, emergency department care, and hospitalization: a cohort study

Kristi M. Swanson, John C. Matulis, Rozalina G. McCoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: To meet increasing demand, healthcare systems may leverage shorter appointment lengths to compensate for a limited supply of primary care providers (PCPs). Limiting the time spent with patients when evaluating acute health needs may adversely affect quality of care and increase subsequent healthcare utilization; however, the impact of brief duration appointments on healthcare utilization in the United States has not been examined. This study aimed to assess for potential inferiority of shorter (15-min) primary care appointments compare to longer (≥ 30-min appointments) with respect to downstream healthcare utilization within 7 days of the initial appointment. Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study using electronic health record (EHR), billing, and administrative scheduling data from five primary care practices in Midwest United States. Adult patients seen for acute Evaluation & Management visits between 10/1/2015 and 9/30/2017 were included. Patients scheduled for 15-min appointments were propensity score matched to those scheduled for ≥ 30-min. Multivariate regression models examined the effects of appointment length on repeat primary care visits, emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, and diagnostic services within 7 days following the visit. Models were adjusted for baseline patient, visit, and provider characteristics. A non-inferiority approach was employed. Results: We identified 173,758 total index visits (6.5% 15-min, 93.5% ≥ 30-min). 11,222 15-min appointments were matched to a comparable ≥ 30-min visit. Longer appointments were more frequent among trainee physicians, patients with limited English proficiency, and patients with more comorbidities. There was no significant effect of scheduled appointment length on the incidence of repeat primary care visits (OR = 0.983, CI: 0.873, 1.106) or ED visits (OR = 0.856, CI: 0.700, 1.047). Shorter appointments were associated with lower rates of subsequent hospitalizations (OR = 0.689, CI: 0.504, 0.941), laboratory services (OR = 0.682, CI: 0.643, 0.724), and diagnostic imaging services (OR = 0.499, CI: 0.466, 0.534). None of the non-inferiority thresholds were exceeded. Conclusions: For select indications and select low risk patients, shorter duration appointments may be a non-inferior option for scheduling of patient care that will not result in greater downstream healthcare utilization. These findings can help inform healthcare delivery models and triage processes as health systems and payers re-examine how to best deliver care to growing patient populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalBMC Primary Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Healthcare Utilization
  • Practice Patterns
  • Primary Care
  • Quality of Healthcare
  • Schedules and Appointments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice
  • General Medicine


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