Fewer Americans visit individual primary care physicians

By Matt Kuhrt

As easy as it may be to strike up a friendship with a doctor, and despite the desire of patients and primary care providers alike for strong relationships between doctors and patients, when faced with real choices, consumers increasingly choose the convenience of a multiple-doctor practice instead. As a result, fewer Americans report a personal relationship with their usual care provider, according to a report from the American Family Physician.

The trend has persisted for the past 15 years and occurs across the board, regardless of age, race, insurance status or poverty status. The study notes a likely correlation between the decline in people reporting individual clinicians as their usual source of care and a rise in reports of a "facility" as a substitute.

Writing in Forbes, Bruce Japsen points out that value-based care models "often use a team-based approach that puts a primary care provider as the quarterback in trying to keep the patients healthy." Indeed, the use of care coordinators to improve care, especially for those with serious illness, can yield healthy dividends.

The convenience factor has also helped to drive the rise of retail clinics and other alternative care-delivery models. Physicians, and in some cases the clinics themselves, have counseled patients to be cautious about how they use these facilities, since the benefit from gains in access to care could be counterbalanced by the loss in continuity of care when patients end up bouncing from one provider to another.

Nevertheless, the benefits of increased access to primary care physicians are significant on their own, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported. The extent to which moving from an individual physician to a multi-doctor facility for primary care affects patient health remains unknown, according to the study's authors, who advocate further investigation.

To learn more:
- see the American Family Physician report
- read the article in Forbes magazine

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