Comprehensive primary care saves money, but is it better?

When primary care providers offer more comprehensive care, it cuts costs for both the health system and individual patients, while reducing hospitalizations, according to research published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

According to the researchers' analysis of 3,652 family physicians and 555,165 Medicare patients across the country, patients were 35 percent less likely to be hospitalized if their doctors provided a wider range of services. More hands-on care from family doctors also kept patients' costs down by 10 to 15 percent.

The findings confirm the notion that coordinated care, led by a family doctor who is judicious about referring patients to specialists, leads to cost savings, Kevin Grumbach, M.D., chair of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told NPR.

This study did not, however, track patient outcomes or experiences--details relevant to determining the true value of comprehensive primary care. The data also does not identify where dollars are being saved and whether the quality of primary care interventions measure up to those offered by specialists.

With these limitations in mind, the study succeeds in exposing the need for further exploration of these issues, according to a related commentary piece from Grumbach. "Is 'to be or not to be comprehensive' simply an existential drama among Hamlets in family medicine who are grieving the passing of an era and having trouble adapting to a changing healthcare environment?" he wrote. "Or does an eroding scope of family medicine have practical ramifications for the Triple Aim of better care, better health and more affordable costs?"

To learn more:
- see the study
- read the NPR post
- here's the commentary

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