Fewer Americans Have Primary Care Providers

Fewer Americans had a primary care provider in 2015 than in 2002, according to a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The overall proportion dropped 2%, from 77% to 75%.

While 2% may not seem like a significant decrease, it’s equivalent to “about the population of New Jersey,” said lead author David Levine, MD, MPH, associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Researchers looked at a nationally representative database of health spending that surveyed between 21,915 and 26,509 patients. People were considered to have primary care providers if they answered yes to the following questions: “Do you have a usual source of care for new health problems? Do you have a usual source for preventative health care? Do you have a usual source for referrals? Do you have a usual source for ongoing health problems?”

There was a 2% decline in the overall population, but the trend was even stronger among younger, healthy patients. Among 30-year-olds, the percentage with a primary care provider dropped from 71% in 2002 to 64% in 2015. The decrease was also dramatic – almost 10% – among healthy people in their 60s.

The proportion remained steady among patients with 3 or more chronic health conditions and those in their 80s.

According to the researchers, this trend could have important implications for health care satisfaction. “[Studies have shown] folks who have a primary care provider are much happier with their health care than those who don’t,” Dr. Levine said. “There is about a 10% boost in patient satisfaction with healthcare when they have a primary care provider.”

Sources: Reuters, December 16, 2019; Levine DM, Linder JA, Landon BE, et al. Characteristics of Americans with primary care and changes over time, 2002-2015. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 December 16. [Epub ahead of print]