Patients fare better with primary care physicians, study finds

U.S. patients who have a primary care physician received significantly more high-value services and reported better patient experience and care access compared to patients without primary care, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

The study, conducted by researchers at Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine, was the first to directly compare the quality and experience of outpatient care between adults with or without primary care. 

To determine whether patients had primary care, researchers asked participants to provide the name of a physician whom they typically visit when they are sick or need health advice.

If they identified a physician who practiced outside of the emergency department, participants were considered to have a "usual source of care." The study participants also had to answer "yes" to receiving four aspects of primary care, including preventive healthcare and care for ongoing problems.

The researchers then analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population, and adjusted their analysis to compare Americans of similar health status and demographics.

Although all respondents received a similar amount of care, the researchers found Americans with primary care received significantly more "high-value" services, such as recommended cancer screenings, diagnostic and preventive testing, diabetes care and counseling.

Patients with primary care also reported better healthcare access and a better experience compared to those without it. 

However, the study found patients with primary care were also slightly more likely to receive low-value care, such as unneeded antibiotics. 

Policymakers and health system leaders seeking to increase value should consider increasing investments in primary care, the researchers concluded.

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