Let’s face it: if you’re a primary care provider (PCP), things haven’t exactly been easy these last few years. Waiting rooms have been overflowing, the office never seems to have enough funding or staff, and the long and difficult hours have left everyone exhausted. Conditions have been like this since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and patience has begun to wear thin for many physicians. Primary care remains an integral part of the U.S. healthcare system, and as we enter 2024, providers nationwide are looking for some much-deserved relief.
As more providers shift to value-based care models, primary care is working harder than ever to provide the best possible care for patients. This upcoming year will be pivotal for the future of U.S. healthcare, and with big changes like shifting care models and staffing problems heading our way, primary care has its work cut out for it. Read on to find out more about where primary care is headed in 2024.
Primary care is changing, and the PCP could be the new quarterback
Healthcare is evolving, and so are the ways we access it. Back in the old days, chances are your primary care provider was a hometown family physician who had their own private practice that you visited a few times a year. While many of these offices are still around, more people today are turning to their local Target or Walgreens for basic healthcare services.
As some traditional primary care providers limit appointment volume, many patients seek alternative, and sometimes less expensive care options. Many individuals are choosing to receive care at retail clinics, which are cropping up in convenient places like grocery stores and department stores.
Retail clinics have soared in popularity in recent years due to their extended weekend and evening hours, walk-in availability, and shorter wait times. They’ve also become a valuable resource for those who need medical attention outside of regular business hours. Insurance companies and Medicare love retail clinics because they are significantly less expensive than a costly emergency department visit.
In addition, the rise of virtual primary care and other telehealth services now allows patients to receive the services they need from the comfort of their homes.
Concierge primary care models are another emerging model that allows patients to have more direct communication with their providers – but at a cost, as many of the concierge models live outside the traditional healthcare insurance ecosystem. For these higher prices, patients get access to same-day appointments, highly comprehensive and personalized care, and constant physician counsel for a set monthly membership fee.
As patients seek primary care from more than one provider or location, the current primary care model is fracturing, as no one has the complete picture of a patient’s health anymore. As a result, primary care doctors are realizing that they need to embrace the opportunities that these shifts in care present and become the proverbial quarterback for their patients – even if the PCP isn’t the person delivering all the care anymore.
Healthcare staffing shortages are putting more pressure on primary care providers
The U.S. is running low on primary care providers, and it’s about to get worse. The American Medical Association (AMA) predicts a shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 PCPs by 2034. But what’s been causing all of these changes?
There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, but the stress and pressure that healthcare workers have been under over the last three years is astronomical. Since the pandemic began, PCPs have been dealing with a massive influx of patients that was nearly impossible to manage. This, coupled with decreased staff and tighter budgets, has dramatically increased the rates of exhaustion and burnout among physicians.
These factors pushed many providers to leave the industry altogether. This mass exodus from the healthcare industry worsened staffing shortages, resulting in even more burnout among the providers who remain.
This collective feeling of burnout has also caused the overall quality of care at many primary care facilities to decrease, which, if not corrected, could spell even more trouble in 2024. The staffing shortage shows no signs of slowing down in the coming year, meaning that many of these problems in primary care will likely persist or worsen.
To help combat the lack of staff and feelings of burnout, many providers have begun embracing artificial intelligence and machine learning as potential solutions. According to our recent study on AI in healthcare, 38% of current provider organizations use AI/ML, mainly for process and workflow improvement. The adoption of AI/ML technology not only alleviates administrative burdens but also empowers physicians to focus on patient care, hopefully resulting in fewer leaving the industry going forward.
Additionally, states like New York have been implementing J-1 visa programs in an effort to bring more physicians into their state. Programs like these waive visa requirements for selected international medical graduates, allowing them to undergo training in the United States. In return for this education, these physicians must commit to practicing in underserved areas within the state upon graduation. The goal of this initiative is to attract more providers to the region and combat the large numbers that are leaving the industry.
It’s unclear how long the current staffing shortage will last, but it’s clear that primary care is taking the necessary steps to be as ready as it can be for 2024.
For more information on how providers are addressing the staffing shortage, check out the video from our expert, Todd Bellemare in the DH Intelligence Center.
The Making Primary Care (MPC) Model
Perhaps the most significant recent development in primary care was CMS’s announcement of a new voluntary primary care model. The Making Care Primary (MCP) model will launch in eight states in July 2024 and will run for ten and a half years.
The MPC model is geared towards smaller, independent primary care practices and organizations that want to participate independently in value-based care programs. According to CMS, the main goals for the model are:
- Improving care management and care coordination,
- Providing primary care clinicians with the tools to form partnerships with key healthcare specialists,
- Helping to identify and address health-related social needs (HRSNs) and connect patients to community support services.
The current primary care infrastructure is under more pressure than ever before, and this model is being developed in response to shifting care trends as well as the payment and delivery methods of value-based care. If the MCP model is successful, it could vastly improve health outcomes for patients as well as overall health equity for people and communities alike. We won’t know the model’s actual effects for another few years, but there’s no question that we’re at an inflection point for what primary care means in the United States. I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds.
While no one can predict the future, it’s clear that primary care is headed for a lot of big changes in 2024. With virtual primary care and telehealth technology on the rise, providers need to determine how this technology will fit into their strategies.
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