The Changing Face of Primary Care Medicine

Primary Care Physician

You walk into a doctor’s office and the physician greets you by your first name. He asks how your mom is doing and congratulates you on the birth of your first child.

The relationship that you have with your primary care physician (PCP) is what sets this breed apart from other medical professionals. 

Sure, specialists, ER docs, and other practitioners share in the desire to connect with patients, but the doctor-patient relationship in the field of primary care medicine is central to the health care services you receive.

Here’s why

From your first trip to the pediatrician to your annual adult well visit, your PCP is on the frontline of your medical care, analyzing years of data, medical tests, procedures, and more. But in recent years, your PCP has become much more than the king or queen of checkups.

In today’s world of working moms and busy dads, it has become increasingly more difficult for PCPs to spend quality time with their patients. What’s more, the field of primary care medicine has become less attractive to graduating medical students, many of whom are choosing to enter more lucrative specialties. These two factors combined have forced PCPs to evolve to meet the needs of today’s patients.

Consider this

A few short years ago, you may not have been surprised to see your doctor sporting a pager. And when you requested a copy of your child’s medical records for summer camp, your PCP may have told you to dust off the office fax machine. Beepers? Fax machines? Let’s face it, docs have had a hard time stepping out of the 1990s. Fortunately, most PCPs are evolving.

Today, many patients now have access to their medical records on patient portals that are hosted with the help of their PCPs. If they have a scratchy throat or peculiar rash they need “looked at,” many docs are happy to discuss it over the phone or via email. While these practices may not seem revolutionary, they represent a major shift in the way primary care doctors are doing business.

Say Hello to PCMHs

Much of this shift can be attributed to the recent rise in patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs), a model that encourages a team-based approach to care. Within a PCMH, the PCP is considered “home base” and works with a team of health care professionals – pharmacists, nurses, case managers, and mental health experts – to coordinate the care of their patients. To make life easier, physicians working in a PCMH often use electronic medical records to track their patients’ progress and coordinate care with specialists.

Implementing these changes has not been easy or cheap. To help, some health insurers have partnered with PCPs to assist with the transition. Recognizing that a team-based approach to care will improve patient health and reduce spending, some health plans have begun rewarding doctors for the quality of care they’re able to provide. This has resulted in a movement away from fee-for-service and toward value-based payments.

Value over Volume

The traditional fee-for-service model reimburses doctors based on the number of patients they treat, tests they perform, and procedures they complete. It’s a system that has – for the most part – encouraged more, not better, care. To the contrary, value-based payments reward doctors for value over volume. In this type of model, doctors feel more comfortable consulting patients over the phone or via email, because they’re not worried about not getting paid for an office visit.

In a world that’s quick to judge the missteps of the health care industry, PCPs have become shining stars who are willing to innovate for the sake and safety of their patients. As the CEO of a physician-founded health plan, I have never been more excited about the promise and possibilities of medicine and the continued partnership with primary care docs in the Capital Region and beyond!


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