Primary care system needs transformation, say experts

June 9, 2022 – The primary care system in the U.S. needs to deliver better care at lower cost and ensure that doctors, medical staff, and patients are more satisfied, according to experts.

A May 31, 2022 article in Medical Economics laid out the problems facing primary care: it is underfunded; doctors are strapped for time because they need to see a large volume of patients to make enough money; patient visits are too short; physicians are burned out; there are workforce shortages; and more new doctors need to be recruited.

One of the experts quoted in the article was Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and executive director of Ariadne Labs. Bitton served on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that published a study in May 2021 on the recent history of primary care in the U.S. and how to bolster it.

He noted that the main cause of the primary care system’s problems is that the way doctors are currently paid—on a fee-for-service basis—doesn’t adequately compensate them for their services. Others quoted in the article stressed the importance of paying primary care doctors on par with specialists.

Bitton said that improving the primary care system will require strong advocacy, with physicians explaining their needs to patients, payers, and policymakers.

“Cardiologists and neurologists are really good at advocating for the things they need,” he said. “I would argue primary care should be just as good or better. We offer a huge value proposition for the rest of the health care system for our communities (and) for the country. Now we need to state it and then get to practicalities and then implement it.”

Read the Medical Economics article: Fixing primary care