Common Criticisms of Direct Primary Care

In this blog post, I'm going to list some common criticisms to Direct Primary Care and my responses to these criticisms. 

In a traditional family medicine practice, each doctor typically sees a panel of 2,500 patients. If each patient comes in twice each year, that means roughly 100 visits each week, assuming that the doctor works 50 weeks each year, or roughly 20 visits each day. In Direct Primary Care, doctors reduce their clinic panel to 500 patients. Now, if each patient visits twice each year, the doctor will see 20 patients each week, or 4 patients each day. If each patient visits three times each ear, the doctor will see 30 patients each week, or 6 patients each day. This allows the doctor to spend up to an hour with each patient and use the remaining time in their schedule to answer phone calls, texts, and emails as well as handle the administrative duties that go along with running a Direct Primary Care practice.

The biggest criticism of doctors who switch from a traditional or fee-for-service practice to Direct Primary Care is this notion of patient abandonment. This means that if the doctor cuts down their practice from 2,500 patients to 500 patients, there will be 2,000 patients that are "abandoned" or without primary care services.

My response to this is simple: I will no longer perpetuate a bad system. In the current fee-for-service system, patients do not have enough time with their doctor for a thorough evaluation, for all of their questions to be answered, and to feel truly cared for. In the current fee-for-service system, doctors are rushing from room to room to room and are unable to provide the kind of high-quality care that their patients deserve,

In the current system, primary care doctors are marginalized and devalued, predisposed to burn out and leaning towards early retirement. Younger medical students see their burnt-out, grumbling, and overstretched attending doctors in Family Medicine and choose not to become primary care doctors in the first place. Why earn less than other specialties in a field that is less-than fulfilling? 

Direct Primary Care doctors are fighting to make primary care relevant again, to restore the doctor-patient relationship, and to create value for patients in a way that the current fee-for-service system cannot.

There's an old adage: "take care of yourself so you can care for others", and it's something that primary care doctors have forgotten about. The expectation of the system is that we should work hard, keep our heads down, and not question the health care administrators who send an overwhelming volume of patients into our clinics each day. 

But when we begin to sacrifice the quality of our work simply because we don't have enough time, it's time to take a stand and re-think our practices. 

This brings me to the next criticism: how many conditions can a primary care doctor really treat? aka how much coverage can a family medicine doctor really provide? 

When a well-trained family medicine doctor is able to practice at the top of their training, they are able to manage between 80 and 90% of all patient concerns. From sore throats, to blood pressure management, Pap tests, skin biopsies, abscess drainage, diabetic management, and beyond, family medicine doctors are able to care for a broad and diverse range of conditions. 

The secret sauce in Direct Primary Care is the amount of time we are able to spend with our patients. If I have an hour, I can use it to drain an abscess, to talk about the efficacy of your antidepressants, to draw your blood for the lab work you need, to remove that ingrown toenail, to fully evaluate your vertigo, to evaluate your child's Vanderbilt scores for ADHD, to dispense the necessary medications and more. 

In the current fee-for-service system, the expectation is that primary care doctors perform a cursory evaluation and then make a referral to a specialist. In the Direct Primary Care model, primary care doctors have more time to address concerns to the fullest of their training. And if that specialty referral is necessary, Direct Primary Care doctors have enough time to personally manage the transition of care, to make the follow up phone call and to get a full picture of what happened during that referral. 

To summarize, Direct Primary Care doctors who leave the traditional fee-for-service system are not abandoning their patients. Rather, they are now free to practice medicine to the best of their ability by having enough time to give high-quality, thoughtful, and comprehensive primary care services to their patients. This will allow burnt out doctors to stay in practice for a longer period of time and it may inspire the next generation of medical students to choose primary care. 

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,

- Dr. Paul Thomas with Plum Health Direct Primary Care