Primary care was meant to be the front door to the healthcare system: the one-stop-shop we rely on for all of our general healthcare needs, and to help us navigate the rest of the convoluted care delivery ecosystem.
But as a front door, it’s pretty broken.
The impact of COVID-19 has shown us this more than ever before—primary care’s already overburdened system has crumbled under the pressure, with patients left to self-diagnose without lab tests or in-person visits, wait in eternal telephone queues for callbacks that may or may not happen. In short, the very place in the healthcare system that was supposed to help catch illness soonest, in fact, created barriers.
The truth is, though, it may have never been set up for success in the first place, given its extremely broad mandate.
Just consider the number of billing codes primary care has to manage: more than five times the number of billing codes (the mix of services that can be billed for and reimbursed through insurance) than the next specialty. Despite the fact that primary care physicians (PCPs) are the ones handling the vast majority of visit volume (52% of ~1B annual outpatient visits), primary care has been both underappreciated and under-compensated—only 5%-8% of overall healthcare spend (PDF), and the lowest annual income amongst all specialties (PDF).