Why Patients Go Without a Primary Care Provider
When was the last time you went to your primary care doctor? No really, when was it?
We ask because for some patients, it could be quite longer than you think.
JAMA Internal Medicine released a study that found that only 75% of healthcare consumers have a primary care doctor in 2015 compared to 77% in 2002. This may not seem like much, but like the article notes, that factors into millions of people without a primary care doctor. Depending on what demographic you are, the data could be even worse.
In the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic, a national study of healthcare consumers that was done amid of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number is a bit more hopeful with 81% of respondents stating they have a primary care doctor. Still, 1 in 5 people without a primary care provider isn’t a great number. Among the five PatientBond psychographic segments, which are determined based on a patient’s attitudes and beliefs toward their health, the percentages of respondents with a primary care physician are relatively flat between 2018 and 2020, but some segments fare worse than the general population.
There are a couple of reasons why this is the case and there may be a lot more than the ones we list, but here are some notable reasons.
Of the healthcare providers out there, primary care hasn’t been as flexible as others. At a retail clinic or urgent care center, you can go in, sometimes 24/7, without an appointment and get seen by a doctor relatively quickly. With primary care, it can take days or weeks to see a doctor with an appointment.
And the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic reflects what patients are looking for. When asked what top 3 services patients would like from their primary care doctor, same day appointments topped the list followed by online scheduling and online check-in/registration.
Consumers want and sometimes expect immediate assistance and it’s hard to compete when your offerings don’t match available care alternatives.
It’s no secret healthcare costs have gone up. Patients in the U.S. spend $11,000/year on healthcare. Without health insurance, that number could go much higher. This was already a problem before COVID-19, but now that many healthcare consumers lost jobs due to the pandemic, they’re even less inclined to visit a doctor due to fear of high medical bills. If they need to, they want less expensive and more convenient options, which are retail clinics and urgent care clinics.
Patients have a “doctor” at their fingertips thanks to WebMD and Google. No matter what ailment you have, you can “find” the answer to it online. If you can find the information you need on your phone, why visit the doctor? That may seem like a bit of a stretch in reasoning, but many health consumers feel this way.
In a way, this can be a good thing for minor health issues, because it saves doctors time so that they can focus on patients that are in need of immediate care for more serious issues. The problem is when a patient writes off certain symptoms and lets it go when in reality, their symptoms are red flags for a serious condition they need to address. Without visiting their primary care doctor, they never know.
Lack of Loyalty
Despite how it looks, loyal patients do exist and you can find them, but there is a lack of loyalty out there. Nearly 20% of patients either visit their primary care physician once every two years or less often or never go at all according to the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic.
Patients might feel unengaged may fall off while others may find a better service or deal elsewhere. When one of the top requests from patients to primary care providers is digital appointment reminders, including those for certain tests like a mammogram or a colonoscopy, there’s an engagement gap.
While the number one reason for switching primary physicians is that patients’ health insurance does not cover the provider, the number two reason (ahead of out of pocket costs) is cleanliness of the facility. This feeling is most likely enhanced by the COVID pandemic and extra cautions taken by patients and clinicians, but it underscores the attention needed to health consumer attitudes and motivations.
What You Can Do
The first thing that should be addressed is your operations options. Can you extend your office hours and add hours on the weekends? Do you offer flexible appointment options such as telehealth? Is there an after-hours phone and/or messaging service patients can use for quick questions? Other than the services we noted previously (same-day appointments, online scheduling and online check-in/registration), patients want digital alerts, secure video consults with physicians using smartphones, tablets or computers and digital appointment reminders. Some of these things are simple to add when you have something like the PatientBond Digital Health Platform and can quickly improve your bottom line.
If you aren’t flexible, you will have a difficult time competing with these clinics and addressing any of these concerns. It’s something that you can readily control.
Patients want to feel in control of their payment options, so let them. While posting a hospital’s list prices is required by law, do more than the minimum and have your prices readily available and easy to spot on your website. And if you don’t, offer flexible payment options that allow for smaller payments over time versus one lump payment.
Patients need to know when to ignore symptoms and when to address them. When using a digital health platform like the PatientBond Digital Health Platform, incorporate messaging about flu shots, annual check-ups and important exams for at-risk or older patients. When some patients feel ok, like Willful Endurers within the PatientBond psychographic model, they think they can skip out on going to the doctor for a while. But for some illnesses or diseases, if you’re unaware you’re sick, not being proactive early enough could make it already too late to prevent a negative health outcome. Stay on top of that with consistent messaging that appeals to specific psychographic segments so that they are motivated to get that check-up with a primary care doctor.
Lack of Loyalty
Consumer loyalty isn’t dead, but all the same, can you say as a provider that you’re doing enough to engage with these patients so that they are loyal? Nearly 55% of patients are extremely or very interested in a follow-up from their primary care according to the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic, so why not follow up?
An easy way to follow up is by using psychographics and automated outreach through the PatientBond Digital Health Platform. Patients can get a follow-up response catered to their psychographic segment like sent time, communication tool, content within the message and even how often it’s sent. Instead of the typical messaging that’s generic and sent to everyone, you can personalize the approach so that it’s not only engaging, but also it also motivates the patient to act on their health.
The sooner primary care providers understand these reasons, the better they can address the disparities. There are patients that want a doctor they can regularly turn to so that they can build a solid relationship to improve their health outcomes. By making a few changes, providers can bring back those patients and welcome new ones in no time.