Primary Care Physicians Seeing Fewer Patients

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Primary care physicians are facing a lot of pressure from all sides, especially with the influx of newly insured Americans. However, PCPs are forced to see fewer patients in a day. A Medical Economics article reported a drop from an average of 99 patient visits per week in 2013 to 89 patient visits per week in 2014, despite little to no change in physician work hours. The article also suggested several reasons for the large decline.

Now that more practices have implemented EHR systems, they’re faced with the daunting task of inputting the information. While EHRs are more efficient than paper charts and will be key in preserving workflow in the long run, beginners are struggling to adjust.

Not only is it time consuming to enter the data, but the task also falls to the physicians because practices don’t have extra funds to hire someone else to manage the administrative details. They’re forced to hold longer appointments to offset the time it takes for a new user to navigate the system and document information. Of course, longer appointments mean that physicians are unable to fit as many patients into one day. 

Many health plans are now offering lower premiums for higher deductibles, meaning that the patient must cover a certain amount of the basic costs before the insurance will kick in. This gives patients less incentive to visit their PCP unless absolutely necessary, so they can minimize their healthcare costs. The idea behind this plan is to reduce the use of unnecessary services and lower overall costs, making the decline in patient visits inevitable.

Physicians are also facing a certain amount of competition in the form of retail clinics. Places such as Walgreens and CVS have opened their own clinics and more urgent care centers are popping up, offering patients a variety of options to choose from and claiming some of the market share.

The attraction to such sources of primary care comes from extended hours and shorter wait times and competing with that requires greater resources that practices don’t have and cannot afford. However, chances are, a reputable practice won’t suffer significantly from the challengers. It’s possible that the convenience of retail clinics could lead patients to seek out services they may not need, which would contribute to increasing healthcare spending.

Author: Apoorva Anupindi