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Healthcare Costs Dampen Patient Engagement Despite Satisfaction

Over 90 percent of patients are satisfied with their primary care, and yet many of them avoid treatments due to rising healthcare costs.

If more than 90 percent of patients are satisfied with their primary care,, then why are so many patients going without routine medical treatments? According to one survey, rising healthcare costs may be the culprit.

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The Physicians Foundation has released a new survey surrounding patient satisfaction and patient engagement with various routine treatments and procedures. The organization used a Harris Poll to question over 1,500 patients, and found several contradicting takes on primary care services.

At least 90 percent of patients expressed  overall satisfaction with their primary care physicians. Ninety-five percent are satisfied with their physicians’ abilities to explain things in laymen’s terms, 96 percent are satisfied with physicians’ respectfulness, 93 percent feel they were being adequately listened to, and 92 percent are satisfied with their physicians’ knowledge of their medical histories.

Patients also have generally good access to primary care, being able to get appointments in a reasonable amount of time and experiencing predictable wait times.

Seventy-one percent of respondents say the wait time for their last primary care appointment was “about what they expect.” Half of the respondents are able to get an appointment within one day of falling ill.

Patients are also being offered flexibility from their PCPs, and are taking advantage of that. Three quarters of respondents utilize same-day appointment scheduling, 68 percent are willing to use extended office hours, 64 percent are willing to use online appointment scheduling, and 71 percent are willing to communicate with their physicians via email.

The healthcare industry has increasingly valued primary care as a significant driver for patient wellness, stating that care coordination and preventative care foremost begin with the PCP. Finding that patients are on the whole satisfied with their PCP care is a significant step forward.

According to the Physicians Foundation president Walker Ray, MD, these results are an extremely positive message for the industry.

“The preservation of the physician-patient relationship is fundamental to the success of our healthcare system, and it is heartening to learn that more than nine out of 10 patients are highly satisfied with their primary care physician,” Ray said in a press release.

“The Foundation is, however, very concerned over the number of U.S. adults avoiding routine care and treatment plans due to healthcare costs,” he continued.

Despite the clear patient satisfaction with primary care, as well as their ability to receive care when necessary, healthcare costs weigh heavily on patients’ minds. Two thirds of respondents are concerned with being able to pay a medical bill, and 40 percent have medical debt.

Perhaps most alarmingly, one in four patients have skipped a medical treatment or a follow-up appointment due to healthcare costs. Eighteen percent have skipped doses of medicine, while 27 percent have avoided filling the prescription altogether.

And it’s not just individual treatment costs that are overwhelming patients. According to the study, one in five patients think their PCP copay is unaffordable, and 57 percent say their specialist copay is unaffordable. These patients are also struggling with their health insurance costs, with 39 percent saying their deductible is unaffordable and 34 percent saying their premium is unaffordable.

Because of these significant financial barriers, industry experts worry about patient access to care. If patients cannot afford their care, they will not access it, keeping them from achieving the highest possible level of wellness.

“Affordability of care has unquestionable impact on access,” Ray explained. “The responses we saw in our survey regarding non- or partial-compliance with care plans due to financial pressures must be a red flag for everyone invested in improving patient care. It is incumbent upon the entire healthcare community to ensure patients have access to quality healthcare services that they feel they can actually afford. Otherwise outcomes suffer.”