In the era of increasing regulatory oversight, more physicians are considering the direct primary care model as an alternative method of practice.
Evidence shows that the direct primary care model reduces healthcare costs compared to the traditional primary care model, and it even improves overall quality of care. Thus, the direct care model provides better care for less money.
Why are doctor's switching? It's because they're dedicated to taking care of patients without the interference of bureaucrats, administrators, or anyone else that impedes a good doctor-patient relationship. They're switching because of insurance. To explain this, think of what auto insurance is used for. It’s there when you need it when something bad happens like a collision or a tornado. But, auto insurance has never been used for oil changes or car maintenance. This is how insurance is supposed to work but that's not the case for primary care. Insurance is ruining primary care and it's forcing many doctors to switch to the alternative, direct primary care.
Here's why doctors are switching to the direct care model:
1. It allows physicians to spend more time with patients.
Traditional healthcare models are based on volume, which means the more patients a doctor sees in a day, the better—at least for the practice. Primary care physicians often carry a caseload of 2000+ patients, an unwieldy number that results in shorter and shorter visits and eroding the patient-doctor relationship.
This approach doesn't sit well with many doctors and patients. Dr. Bruce Sokoloff recalls how his frustration prompted him to make the switch to direct primary care. He says, "I became increasingly frustrated by time constraints and I could see that in the traditional system, there was no way to achieve optimal health."
Related Article: Primary Care: Rushed Doctors & Dissatisfied Patients
2. Longer visits mean better quality visits.
More isn't always better, but when it comes to doctor-patient visits, the more minutes a doctor can spend with his or her patient, the better. Why? A five or ten minute visit isn't long enough to dive deep into serious and/or chronic health issues (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.). In a previous blog post, I wrote about why patients can't spend more time with their doctor. Read it here.
Even for a wellness visit, a doctor and patient need more time to discuss strategies—what's working, what's not working, and next steps. Sitting back and having a conversation that flows naturally (and that doesn't feel rushed) is necessary in order for the doctor and patient to communicate effectively and build trust.
We're not suggesting that doctors in traditional healthcare practices are providing lower quality healthcare. Most of these doctors perform heroically and with due diligence under stressful time constraints. But imagine the care these doctors could provide if they only had more time to offer each patient.
Dr. David Perkins talks about how he recognized this fact and decided to make the switch: "With dwindling insurance coverage and increasing numbers of patients, the industry emphasis was becoming more about number of patient visits rather than quality of patient visits. It was steadily becoming less satisfying for both the patient and the physician."
3. Paperwork is reduced dramatically.
Yes, there will always be paperwork, even if it takes on a virtual form (think electronic medical records). However, direct primary care physicians don't need to deal with the overwhelming paperwork required by health insurance agencies. Rather than spending countless hours on the insurance paperwork, the doctors can use this time to spend with their patients.
Related Article: Analysis: Direct Primary Care In The United States
Dr. Frank Pettinelli, Jr. explains how this influenced his decision: "I saw what was happening in medicine. I was getting farther and farther away from what I was trained to do: treat people. I was spending more time supervising my employees, doing paperwork delegated by insurance companies, and practicing the business of medicine. I had read about direct primary care and when the opportunity presented, I knew it was the right thing for me."
4. It celebrates the best of primary care
In the "old days," meaning the early part of the twentieth century, house calls accounted for 40% of doctor-patient interactions. That number dropped to less than 1% by the 1980s. Today, house call doctors are making a comeback, proving that patients appreciate and crave personal attention from their MDs.
Dr. Teresa Saris echoes this sentiment: "I spent many hours trying to find the right formula to maintain a high-quality office practice while being fiscally responsible. There are various options a physician can consider to protect their career, but I wanted to continue the service that I felt was more important—to protect quality healthcare. The direct care model allows me to practice the best medicine, the old-fashioned way, to those who value their healthcare."
Doctors working directly with and for their own patients is the principle upon which direct primary care was founded. By cutting out the expensive insurance and administrative middlemen, the cost of providing care decreases drastically. Patients are better cared for. Doctors have more professional and personal satisfaction. Everyone saves money. It is a win-win for everyone…except for the big insurance conglomerates and high paid hospital administrators.