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Community Tracking Study (CTS)

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CTS Surveys

Household Survey

Physician Survey:

Dataset Summary

The Community Tracking Study comprises a series of periodic telephone surveys of households and physicians in representative communities around the country.  The focus of the household survey is tracking changes in health care utilization, access, insurance, costs, and perceived quality, while the physician survey focuses on practice organization, revenue, and compensation, information technology, challenges in practicing medicine, care practices and perceived quality of care, and more.

From 1996 through 2003, data was collected mainly on 60 representative communities throughout the United States, with in-depth surveys of 12 of these.  In 2007, the survey design was modified to permit national estimates only.
The main data files are free and available for direct download.  Additional information is available in restricted-access files, available with an application process. 

Dataset Details

Dataset owner / manager   
A project of the Center for Studying Health System Change, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Study and sample characteristics

Serial survey of households and physicians in 60 representative communities across the United States (and, more recently, a nationally-based sample), from 1996 through 2008.  The most recent round of the household survey included 9,400 families and 17,800 individuals, and the most recent round of the physician survey included 4,700 physicians.

Households and physicians are not linked – that is, the physicians surveyed do not necessarily provide care to the subjects in the household survey.

Major foci   

Major foci for the household survey include:
• Health insurance
• Health status
• Use of health care services
• Employer health insurance offerings
• Health care access and cost problems
• Patient trust in physician
• Patient satisfaction and problems with health plan
• Consumer information

Major foci for the physician study include
• Obtaining services for patients
• Quality of care
• Financial incentives
• Care management
• Managed care business
• Medicare and Medicaid
• Charity care
• Acceptance of new patients
• Practice characteristics
• Income
• Career satisfaction
• Priorities within practice
• Competition
• Patient-obtained information
• Use of computers
• Clinical information technology (IT)
Special supplements and resources    
CTS Online:  This web-based resource allows researchers to obtain instant cross-tabs on data from the household and physician surveys:

 Site visits:  Approximately every 2 years, researchers conduct site visits to the 12“core” communities of the CTS and conduct in-depth interviews with local health system leaders about the organization, financing, and delivery of health care in their area.

Followback survey:  In 1996 and 1998, researchers obtained in-depth information about the health insurance plans used by subjects in the household survey
Employer survey: In 1997, employers were surveyed about the health plans they offered.
Papers published   

 Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset.

Examples of papers published using CTS include:

Disentangling the influence of socioeconomic status on differences between African American and white women in unmet medical needs.
Wiltshire JC, Person SD, Kiefe CI, Allison JJ.
Am J Public Health. 2009 Sep;99(9):1659-65.

Managed care and physicians' perceptions of drug formulary use.
Fang H, Rizzo JA.
Am J Manag Care. 2009 Jun;15(6):395-400.

How do race and sex affect the earnings of primary care physicians?
Weeks WB, Wallace TA, Wallace AE.
Health Aff (Millwood). 2009 Mar-Apr;28(2):557-66.

Rapidity and modality of imaging for acute low back pain in elderly patients.
Pham HH, Landon BE, Reschovsky JD, Wu B, Schrag D.
Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 25;169(10):972-81.

Racial/ethnic differences in physician distrust in the United States. Armstrong K, Ravenell KL, McMurphy S, Putt M.
Am J Public Health. 2007 Jul;97(7):1283-9.

Dataset accessibility and cost 

Data is free and available for downloading after registration.  Restricted use data is available after an application process

Help Desk   

Technical assistance using the CTS data files:

Request a consultation (SGIM) members only

Members of SGIM may request a one-time consultation with an expert in this dataset, for example, to explore research ideas or to troubleshoot a problem or vexing question. Please click here for  guidelines and the request process.