Mortality rates lower in US counties with more primary care physicians

Mortality rates are lower in U.S. counties with more primary care physicians than in areas with fewer physicians, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

To investigate how the supply of primary care physicians affects mortality rates, researchers examined data from 3,142 U.S. counties,7,144 primary care service areas and 306 hospital referral regions.

Overall, the study found the total number of U.S. primary care physicians increased from 196,014 in 2005 to 204,419 in 2015.

However, due to disproportionate losses of providers in rural areas, the average number of primary care physicians per 100,000 people decreased from 46.6 to 41.1 during the same period.

Each 10 additional primary care physicians per 100,000 people was linked to a 51.5 day increase in life expectancy, the study found.

The extra primary care physicians were also associated with declines of up to 1.4 percent in mortality rates from causes such as cancer, heart disease and respiratory disorders.

"Greater supply of primary care physicians appeared to increase the chances that a person would be treated for cardiovascular disease risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or caught early for major cancers like breast cancer or colon cancer," lead study author Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, told Reuters.

"While primary care physician availability relates to important goals like longer life and lower death rates, the number of primary care doctors is dwindling," Dr. Basu said. "We need to do more to attract great medical students into the primary care field."


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