The ongoing Finnish health and social service reform will expand choice by opening the market for competition between public and private service providers. This study examined the attitudes of primary care patients towards choice and which patient-related factors are associated with these attitudes.
A sample of attenders during one week in health centres of 12 big cities and municipal consortiums (including seven outsourced local units) and in primary care units of one private company providing outsourced services for municipalities (aged 18-95, n=8128) was used. The questionnaire included questions on choice-related attitudes, sociodemographic factors, health status, use of health services and patient satisfaction.
Of the responders, 77% regarded choice to be important, 49% perceived genuine opportunities to make choices and 35% were satisfied with the choice-relevant information. Higher age, low education, having a chronic illness, frequent use of services, having a personal physician and being satisfied with the physician and with waiting times were related to assigning more importance on choice. Younger patients, those with higher education as well as those with chronic illness regarded their opportunities of choosing the service provider and availability of choice-relevant information poorer.
The Finnish primary care patients value choice, but they are critical of the availability of choice-relevant information. Choices of patients with complex health care needs should be supported by developing integrated care alternatives and by increasing the availability of information on existing care alternatives to meet their needs.