More Than Half of Acute Care Visits Not Made to Primary Care Physician
More than half of the 354 million doctor visits made by U.S. residents annually for acute medical care are not to patients' primary care physicians, which underscores the wastefulness of the U.S. health care system, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs, the New York Times reports.
The study -- which examined records of acute care visits from 2001 to 2004 -- also found that 28% of such visits are to hospital emergency departments. Furthermore, researchers found that more than 50% of acute care visits by uninsured U.S. residents were to EDs, which often is seen as a needlessly expensive place for such treatment.
Implications for Health Reform
Study author Stephen Pitts of Emory University said the study highlights a potential issue for the federal health reform law, which aims to expand access to primary care and expand insurance coverage to an additional 32 million U.S. residents.
The reform law is supposed to expand access to primary care by increasing reimbursements to health care providers, thus:
- Enticing medical students into primary care;
- Building upon services from community health centers; and
- Supporting new care models, such as accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes.
However, the authors wrote, "If primary care lags behind rising demand" during the overhaul, "patients will seek care elsewhere" (Sack, New York Times, 9/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.