Gatekeeping and the utilization of community health services in Shenzhen, China: A cross-sectional study

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To assess the effects of the gatekeeper policy implemented in Shenzhen, China, in conjunction with a labor health insurance program, on channeling patients toward community health centers (CHCs).

Eight thousand patients who visited 8 CHCs in Shenzhen were surveyed between May 1, 2013 and July 28, 2013. Half of the patients were subject to gatekeeper policy and the other half of them were not. Structured questionnaire was used to collect patients’ choices of initial medical institution, use of CHCs and their satisfaction with health care. Bivariate and regression analyses were used to compare patient's choice, utilization, and satisfaction of CHCs.

Compared with patients who were free to seek medical care at any place, patients with gatekeepers were 1.77 (95% CI 1.37–2.30) times more likely to choose CHCs first when seeking care. In the past year, the group with gatekeeper made 0.88 more visits to CHCs in the past year than the group without gatekeeper (P < .01), controlling for influencing factors. The 2 groups were equally satisfied with all satisfaction measures except for “waiting time,” which was higher among patients without gatekeepers (P < .01).

Our study indicates that, as repeatedly proven in other parts of the world, gatekeeping is effective in orienting patients toward primary care system. Along with increased efforts in rebuilding China's primary care network and expanding health insurance coverage, implementation of gatekeeper policy may help increase access to care, reduce inappropriate use of health resources, and strengthen primary care institutions.

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