Rising costs, changing business models and patients’ inability to access care have affected both patients and practitioners across the healthcare spectrum. High stress, the shrinking scope of practice and lagging reimbursements are hitting primary care practitioners particularly hard. But new perspectives and care models are taking root, with policymakers and the medical industry finally taking notice. Primary care is changing and, in many cases, for the better. Trends in primary care include changing modes of care that have a chance to empower primary practitioners if they are able to adapt to them.
At Home and Virtual Care
At the heart of healthcare’s transformation is the at-home trend powered by virtual health. With practitioners able to see patients online via telehealth platforms, visits are conducted from the comfort of a patient’s own home. This results in a convenient and more cost-effective visit that lowers the chance of illness for patients and practitioners.
At-home care also applies to those in long-term treatment settings, with telehealth facilitating the trend. Technology like remote patient monitoring and digital assessments will ensure PCPs can remain an important part of a patient’s care team, even as specialists get involved in the treatment of chronic disease. The result is a more personalized healthcare experience that serves unique patient needs with both digital and hands-on interventions for elderly, disabled or post-surgical patients.
DPC Payment and Care Models
DPC stands for direct primary care and involves a flat, periodic payment model where patients pay regularly to receive a defined set of services, similar to a subscription or membership. DPCs cover simple but critical items, including blood tests, check-ups and minor illness visits. Patients can pay monthly or annually for ready, if not on-demand, access to these services. This system is designed to be less expensive for practitioners and patients and eliminates the need for insurance during routine visits.
Primary care practitioners benefit from the DPC model which offers a more stable and predictable income than the typical fee-for-service models. This trend could not emerge at a better time, as PCPs continue to see lagging reimbursement rates.
DPCs can also lead to better care, giving practitioners the ability to consider the unique needs of the populations they serve. Modifying and customizing DPC plans for more targeted health support can effectively prevent and treat diseases endemic to certain populations. Examples include metabolic diseases, certain cancers and Hepatitis C, all of which impact the underserved at higher rates. Quality continuing medical education credits can help practitioners adapt to a future where more holistic and targeted care models like DPC are the norm.
Community and Population Health
Population health is an interdisciplinary model that coordinates care to directly serve predefined patient groups. Models of patient care and payment arrangements targeting individual patient needs can incorporate holistic and systemic healthcare perspectives. A patient may be a part of more than one underserved group and require targeted health interventions based on factors specific to each.
Population health management is the process of improving health outcomes for a specific set of individuals with customized interventions that take into account multiple and systemic factors contributing to health. Examples include mental health needs, dietary needs and historical stressors like racism.
The role the primary care practitioner plays within the population health model is critical. PCPs are the front line of illness prevention, battling chronic disease, and providing access to testing and referrals. With this role, PCPs are in a unique position to provide feedback to policymakers designing population-based medical and community interventions.
Primary care practitioners are all too familiar with barriers to patient access. As the entry point to the rest of the healthcare system, lack of access to primary care has a tremendous impact on patient health. If patients can’t find or can’t afford a PCP, they must often forgo care, going years without treating illness or even receiving a basic health check.
One trend showing positive signs of improving patient care is “consumerization.” This emerging mode of care has led to the addition of primary and family care practices to drug stores offering a more complete wellness experience. Here, the incentive to treat patients more like consumers is not without benefits, with quicker response times and added convenience. Consumerization is also shown to promote health tracking by patients, who are likely to use technology when it’s provided within consumerized healthcare environments.