Primary Care: Why it matters to individuals and organizations

You’re scheduled for a wellness visit with your primary care physician today. She has a long waiting list for an appointment, but you’re not going to make it…again. A meeting ran late, and her office just isn’t nearby…

Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s a common story, and most people have been guilty at some point – assuming they scheduled a wellness exam in the first place. It’s inconvenient to see a provider for preventive care even with the best intentions.

That’s a problem for individuals. But it’s also an issue for organizations. Many people receive health benefits through their work –  and their healthcare costs go up when they don’t have access to primary care. Let’s take a deeper look.

A provider exams a Premise Health member

What is primary care? 

Most people think of primary care as routine, day-to-day healthcare from an internal or family medicine doctor, or from another provider like a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. It’s the first stop for most healthcare concerns, from sprained ankles to the common cold.

Primary care includes preventive care, meant to help keep people from getting sick (or sicker). It also includes things like back-to-school vaccines, bloodwork to check cholesterol and insulin, and counseling on family and lifestyle risk factors.

How does primary care help people stay healthier? 

First, primary care is critical to prevention and early detection for many illnesses. If people get regular exams and screenings, they are more likely to prevent health problems – or to catch them early, get treatment sooner, and need less care overall.

The second, more subtle reason is that when people see a primary care provider regularly, they are more likely to have a relationship with that person. Right or wrong, most people are more willing to listen to someone they know and trust. They’re also more likely to be open and honest about lifestyle habits and medical concerns. That’s powerful. After all, a provider can’t counsel a patient on his options to quit smoking, or refer someone to counseling for anxiety, if she never knows those concerns exist.

Can primary care also help keep healthcare costs down?

Yes. Studies show healthcare systems that prioritize primary care deliver a better value to patients. They not only have better outcomes, but cost significantly less as well.

That’s because when people are healthier, their treatment costs less. If a preventive mammogram catches breast cancer early, or regular bloodwork helps someone get ahead of diabetes, everyone wins.

Why is it so inconvenient to get an appointment with a primary care provider?

The U.S. is facing a primary care access crisis. There are a lot of theories about the reasons behind it. Some experts say the U.S. simply doesn’t have enough providers overall. Others say there are enough providers, but they are not distributed equally among cities and rural areas. There are also concerns too many providers are choosing to specialize in areas such as cardiology, instead of pursuing internal and family medicine. 

We think it’s a combination of all these factors. In many cities the time to schedule a new patient appointment increased 30 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. Meanwhile, the Association of American Medical Colleges has projected a shortfall of up to 90,400 doctors by 2025.

These trends demonstrate why it’s so hard to get in to see your provider, even if you already have a relationship with him.

Where Premise Health fits in 

Many organizations are taking the issue of primary care into their own hands. We work with hundreds of clients who have decided that the best way to keep their people and dependents healthy, while lowering costs, is to create direct access to care. We help them establish onsite centers, nearsite centers, and virtual health options that make it easy and convenient to see a provider:

  • Our providers are dedicated to their member populations, not a fee-for-service payment model. That means they have more time to spend with members during each visit, which builds trust.
  • We schedule same-day appointments, and our average wait time is less than two minutes.

Nationally, 23 percent of large employer firms with 1,000 or more workers have established a health center for their workers to use. That number is on the rise. We anticipate that up to 40 percent of companies will invest in direct access by 2020, with the goals of lowering costs and improving health by making sure their people can get the care they need, when and where they need it.      

If you’re in charge of health at your organization, let us know how access to primary care affects your people. Get in touch – we value your questions and feedback. 

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