Primary care is proven to better health outcomes by providing whole-person health guidance and care management for patients, improving costs for both patients and employers, preventing catastrophic healthcare events and more. The American Academy of Family Physicians defines primary care as “health care services that are person-centered, team-based, community-aligned and designed to achieve better health, better care and lower costs.”1 However, reporting shows that the U.S. falls short in providing such a healthcare experience.
There is a great need for primary care to evolve in the US. According to a recent Commonwealth Fund report, of all high-income countries, the US trails behind and is even last in some categories with its primary care practices. Accessibility is one of the biggest barriers. A few examples being Americans are least likely to have a regular physician or longstanding relationship with a provider, they are least likely to have after-hour access or home visit options with a provider, and only half of US physicians report adequate care coordination with specialists, hospitals and other providers.2 If the US improved its primary care practices and all Americans had access and used primary care, $67 billion (about $210 per person in the US) would be saved annually.3
One of the biggest deterrents for seeking care is affordability. Unsurprisingly, there is a large gap in care: About 60% of Americans either do not have or do not use a PCP (primary care physician) and 40% of Americans have delayed or skipped care due to cost.4,5 Primary care is essential for whole-person wellness with preventive care and chronic care management, however, people are not using it and in turn, are electing more expensive modalities of care and may be burdened with catastrophic healthcare events. Without routine healthcare consultations, the likelihood of costly care increases as 40% of Americans do not have $400 for emergency expenses to support themselves with an unexpected healthcare event.6
Another deterrent for care is access. On average, Americans wait 24 days to see a PCP in-person and on top of that, patients wait almost 20 minutes to see a doctor even with an appointment.7,8 Dr. Brittany Brooks, Assistant Medical Director at First Stop Health shares, “Even when you do get an in-person appointment, it is common to have to wait beyond your scheduled time to see your doctor. Long waits during a doctor’s visit have various causes and are often unpredictable.”
Due to the fee-for-service model of most doctors’ offices, a PCP has limited time with patients as they are encouraged to treat as many patients as possible in one day. Dr. Brooks adds, “During an annual preventive visit, after the doctor has spent most of the time addressing the typical components of that type of visit, there isn’t much time left to discuss the items that the patient may want to address. In cases like this, the patient may have to schedule another appointment to discuss those specific issues, or the doctor goes beyond the allotted schedule and gets behind schedule for everyone else.” Follow-up appointments are common and equally inefficient for both doctor and patient, lengthening issues and discouraging primary care visits altogether.
While it’s proven that primary care is necessary for optimal health and whole-person health guidance, Americans do not use or have a PCP due to inconveniences like cost, access and wait times. “In our current tech age that allows us to quickly perform many routine tasks on our phone, waiting months to see a primary care doctor seems absurd to many,” says Dr. Brooks. A viable solution is virtual primary care, a service that removes these barriers, bringing care to people where and when they need it.
Dr. Brittany Brooks is originally from Maryland. She is a board-certified family physician. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and traveling.
Making a Difference with First Stop Health Virtual Primary Care
Virtual Primary Care is a convenient means to access care. It is comprised of urgent, preventive and chronic care, and is available to members via app, website or phone. Urgent care is available 24/7 for non-emergency, episodic health issues. Preventive and chronic care visits are available when it’s best for the patient (usually within 4 days) and occur with primary doctors from the First Stop Health (FSH) virtual practice. Preventive care encompasses routine check-ups and lab or screening referrals to track overall health. Chronic care is the treatment and maintenance of ongoing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity. By integrating these 3 care areas, FSH helps members with whole-person wellness from the comfort of wherever they are in life. Plus, there are no costs or predefined limits on the number of visits for members.