Promoting the Value of a Primary Care Provider

The number of patients in the United States with a primary care provider (PCP) declined by 2% in a little over a decade, according to a study published in a 2019 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. Those millions spanned Americans of all ages, except for those in their 80s, researchers said.

The number of employees without a PCP—as high as 16% to 20% of the total population, according to one major healthcare payer—has long been a challenge for HR leaders. Though the percentage is higher among adults age 18-39, the large number of adults over 40 without a PCP is a more alarming trend since this population is at a higher risk of chronic conditions. Children without a PCP are also at risk because they need that healthcare connection to track annual wellness milestones and administer vaccinations.

The Journal of Health Affairs and JAMA have published research that shows a clear connection between having a PCP and better management of chronic conditions, a higher level of patient satisfaction and lower costs. The COVID-19 pandemic has also accentuated the drastic need for individuals to have a PCP whom they can call with concerns, said Cindy Powell, MD, medical director of the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network. “Many of the people calling in to COVID hotlines had no idea what to do or where to go for care without the support of a PCP.” 

Whether answering health questions or conducting preventive screenings for cancer and other conditions, a PCP helps patients on a journey toward better health—but sometimes a nudge is necessary to help employees take the first step. “It takes a team effort to encourage employees to find a ‘medical home’ that prioritizes wellness and reduces the incident of preventable chronic diseases,” Dr. Powell said.

Here are a few ways to help your employees connect to a PCP:

• Promote the value of preventive care. Building a long-term, ongoing relationship with a PCP forms the foundation for good health. PCPs can be the first call for healthcare questions or problems, they can detect early signs of illness, and they can refer patients to a specialist if needed. With access to a patient’s entire record—from their electronic medical record and insurance claims—a PCP can get a more comprehensive view of the patient’s overall health and gain visibility into any gaps in their care.

• Underscore the cost savings. Regular checkups and preventive screenings to catch health issues before they turn into a larger problem all add up to less out-of-pocket costs. Research also shows that people connected to a PCP are less likely to have major unexpected health costs.

• Provide incentives. Consider providing an annual wellness bonus or other incentive to convince employees to find a PCP.

• Make it mandatory for 2021 benefits. Consider requiring employees to find a PCP to encourage the establishment of a medical home.