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Development and validation of an algorithm using health administrative data to define patient attachment to primary care providers

Jaakkimainen L, Bayoumi I, Glazier RH, Premji K, Kiran T, Khan S, Frymire E, Green ME. J Health Organ Manag. 2021; 35(6):733-43. Epub 2021 Jul 26. DOI:

Purpose — The authors developed and validated an algorithm using health administrative data to identify patients who are attached or uncertainly attached to a primary care provider (PCP) using patient responses to a survey conducted in Ontario, Canada.

Design/Methodology/Approach — The authors conducted a validation study using as a reference standard respondents to a community-based survey who indicated they did or did not have a PCP. The authors developed and tested health administrative algorithms against this reference standard. The authors calculated the sensitivity, specificity positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) on the final patient attachment algorithm. The authors then applied the attachment algorithm to the 2017 Ontario population.

Findings — The patient attachment algorithm had an excellent sensitivity (90.5%) and PPV (96.8%), though modest specificity (46.1%) and a low NPV (21.3%). This means that the algorithm assigned survey respondents as being attached to a PCP and when in fact they said they had a PCP, yet a significant proportion of those found to be uncertainly attached had indicated they did have a PCP. In 2017, most people in Ontario, Canada (85.4%) were attached to a PCP but 14.6% were uncertainly attached.

Research Limitations/Implications — Administrative data for nurse practitioner's encounters and other interprofessional care providers are not currently available. The authors also cannot separately identify primary care visits conducted in walk in clinics using our health administrative data. Finally, the definition of hospital-based healthcare use did not include outpatient specialty care.

Practical Implications — Uncertain attachment to a primary health care provider is a recurrent problem that results in inequitable access in health services delivery. Providing annual reports on uncertainly attached patients can help evaluate primary care system changes developed to improve access. This algorithm can be used by health care planners and policy makers to examine the geographic variability and time trends of the uncertainly attached population to inform the development of programs to improve primary care access.

Social Implications — As primary care is an essential component of a person's medical home, identifying regions or high need populations that have higher levels of uncertainly attached patients will help target programs to support their primary care access and needs. Furthermore, this approach will be useful in future research to determine the health impacts of uncertain attachment to primary care, especially in view of a growing body of the literature highlighting the importance of primary care continuity.

Originality/Value — This patient attachment algorithm is the first to use existing health administrative data validated with responses from a patient survey. Using patient surveys alone to assess attachment levels is expensive and time consuming to complete. They can also be subject to poor response rates and recall bias. Utilizing existing health administrative data provides more accurate, timely estimates of patient attachment for everyone in the population.

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