The ongoing growth of urgent care, among other trends, is at least partially responsible for an increasing scarcity of traditional primary care physicians, according to analysis of new data posted to Advisory Board. Citing research by the Health Care Cost Institute and an article just published in The New York Times, the piece notes that “the emergence of urgent care centers and retail clinics, as well as proliferating mergers between healthcare providers” is lowering patients’ reliance on traditional primary care—as well as clinicians’ interest in pursuing it as a career. Office visits to primary care doctors decreased by 18% between 2012 and 2016; at the same time, visits to specialty practices increased. The authors cite familiar attributes like convenience and lower cost as the key drivers of increased urgent care traffic. In pointing out that consolidation and ongoing merger activity also has an effect, the authors noted the economic pressure mounting on smaller physician practices—some of which are being bought up by hospitals and healthcare systems. It remains to be seen how the insurance industry will adapt to the shrinking primary care pool. While payers prefer patients to visit urgent care instead of the emergency room (as evidenced by any number of incentives and corresponding barriers), primary care is still the cheapest option—for patients who don’t mind waiting a few days, by which time the insurer may be hoping there will be no need at all.
Article Highlights Migration from Traditional Primary Care to Urgent Care