Preventative Care Works Better When it’s Proactive

Direct primary care patients

One of the primary missions of primary care is to manage your overall health and wellness–and by doing so prevent larger issues from developing down the road. This type of preventive care can include managing current conditions, helping you balance your diet and exercise, and keeping detailed records of your overall medical history. This is certainly true for direct primary care patients, who tend to receive a more personalized approach than the broader patient population.

But, does this more personalized approach lead to concrete benefits? In at least one case, it certainly does. A recent study supports the idea that direct primary care can reduce pediatric emergency room visits by as much as 70%. While this study focused on pediatric patients, we believe that the conclusions would be similar for patients of any age.

There are significant and long term health benefits associated with avoiding preventable emergency room admissions. In other words, there’s a great deal of evidence to support the idea that patients who attend a direct primary care clinic will enjoy better outcomes–and fewer visits to the ER.

What This New Study Shows

In 2021, researchers Jenny Barco, Ashley Amaya, Chad Rudnick, and Paul Gilbert published a study that looked at nearly 500 pediatric patients across demographic groups and gender. The goal of the study, published in Journal of Health & Medical Economics, was to compare admissions to pediatric emergency rooms in two distinct groups: those with traditional primary care plans (a PPO) and those using direct primary care.

Researchers kept track of a wide variety of data, including the outcomes of visits, the symptoms of those who needed hospital admission, and how preventable the visit was. The idea was to control for all factors except the type of primary care the patient was receiving.

Once the researchers crunched all the numbers, the conclusions were pretty stark! Patients in a direct primary care setting were significantly less likely to make preventable trips to the emergency room. (Again, the research suggests DPC patients were 70% less likely to be admitted to the emergency room.) Conceivably, this suggests that the preventative care in a DPC setting is more effective–at least in preventing hospital visits! 

What This Means for Direct Primary Care Patients

The researchers do not draw particularly strong conclusions about anyone outside their specific study group. That’s for good reason. Healthcare researchers are often very cautious about publishing conclusions beyond what the data directly support. However, there are a few logical conclusions that DPC patients can feel confident in drawing from this piece of research:

  • Direct primary care is capable of delivering more personalized care than patients will typically receive in a traditional clinic setting. This can help direct primary care patients achieve better overall health and wellness.
  • This improved personalized care can help your physician better manage your health and wellness, resulting in fewer preventable emergency room visits.
  • The data in the research applies only to pediatric patients, but there’s no reason to think the results would not also apply across age ranges.
  • In some cases, emergency medical care is both necessary and improves outcomes. In those cases, patients should continue to seek medical care.
  • In traditional primary care offices, patients cannot reach their physicians and often there are no appointments available for weeks. As a result, some go to the ER to get immediate care even when their need didn’t warrant it. At our office and other DPC practices, patients can get advice in a timely manner, avoiding unnecessary ER visits.

Again, the researchers do not necessarily make these conclusions–but they are logical assumptions based on the data presented. In other words, it’s reasonable to operate on the assumption that being a patient at a direct primary care clinic for your primary care can help keep you out of the emergency room!

Why Avoiding the ER Could be Important

Patients who are experiencing a medical emergency should absolutely go to the emergency room and seek urgent care. That’s the best possible role for ERs. However, they are not an ideal venue to receive routine or long-term care. In those contexts especially, avoiding emergency room visits for preventative care can have some significant benefits:

  • Cost savings: Emergency room visits can be extremely expensive. The extent to which insurance will cover an ER visit also varies wildly. Which means you could be facing a huge out-of-pocket expense for a visit that, in some cases, may not have been necessary.
  • Better long term care: Emergency room physicians don’t know you, your body, or your medical history. In many cases, they’re more concerned with treating symptoms than addressing underlying conditions. They just don’t have time! The goal of most emergency rooms is to help you control your condition just long enough for you to visit your primary care doctor.
  • Better outcomes: Patients who use emergency rooms for routine healthcare concerns typically see worse outcomes and more frequent hospital visits. Preventing an unnecessary hospital visit can also help prevent follow-up visits. 

Ideally, taking care of your health will involve developing a relationship with your physician–so they can get to know you and your health. To do this best, physicians at a direct primary care clinic have developed a unique model in which physicians see only a limited number of patients.

This means that for direct primary care patients, visits are never rushed–and that you can contact your doctor without needing to worry about your insurance company.

If you have questions about how direct primary care could work for your needs, contact Progressive Health Primary Care today to schedule an appointment.