- Despite reported positive patient and primary care provider relationships, patients still experience barriers accessing care but see the upsides of urgent and retail care clinic offerings, according to a survey from Mercy Health System of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
The survey of 1,700 adult patients found that 59 percent of patients think their primary care provider cares about them on a personal level and 49 percent believe their PCP knows them personally, highlighting perceived positive relationships with their providers.
The data showed that patients know their PCPs in return, with 75 percent of patients saying they know their provider by name.
That’s more than patients can say for their urgent care and retail clinic providers. Only 15 percent of patients said they know the name of the clinician who most recently treated the patient in a retail clinic. Twelve percent of patients could say the same about their latest urgent care clinic provider, and 8 percent for their most recent free clinic provider.
Although patients reported positive and more personal relationships with their primary care providers, they are also seeing the benefits of accessing retail or urgent care. Sixty-one percent of patients said they were willing to visit an urgent care clinic instead of the primary care clinic even when their needs were non-urgent.
Forty-one percent of patients said they would opt for urgent care when appointment scheduling at the PCP proved to be a hassle.
Thirty-four percent of respondents said urgent care is preferable when their PCP is not available when needed, and 30 percent opt for urgent care when the PCP office is not conveniently located. Twenty-eight percent of patients said they visit urgent care when there are unreasonably long wait times at the PCP.
These results reinforce commonly-accepted benefits of urgent care and retail health clinics. Patients tend to like these care sites because the clinics are easy to access, have expanded office hours, and present a more time-sensitive solution to medical needs.
However, according to the Mercy Health Systems survey, patients still have some misperceptions about receiving treatment at an urgent care or retail clinic. Patients largely do not understand the need to communicate with their primary care providers following all care encounters in an effort to drive care coordination.
Only 36 percent of respondents said they followed up with their PCP after an urgent care center visit, and only 25 percent did so after a retail clinic visit.
This is despite the fact that urgent care and retail clinic providers are supposed to instruct patients in follow-up communications. The survey did not reveal the actual frequency at which urgent care and retail health providers offered those instructions.
Patients may not have engaged in follow-up communication with their PCPs because they believed the retail or urgent care clinic already did so. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they thought all parties automatically communicated following an urgent care or retail clinic visit.
Mercy plans to use these insights to improve their PCP offerings for patients, said Mercy Physician Network President William J. Strimel, DO. Understanding how patients value primary care and what drives them to seek alternative care will help shape future efforts to overcome patient access issues.
"We wanted to enhance our understanding of dynamics that affect interactions between patients and their PCPs," Strimel explained in a statement. "The research findings show that both patients and physicians need to work harder to communicate to take advantage of the benefits offered by the more personal relationships patients can enjoy with their PCPs."
Additionally, these insights showed Mercy leaders that patients fundamentally value a strong relationship with their PCP, a relationship they currently do not have with urgent care or retail clinic providers.
"By focusing on building long-term relationships based on open communication, working to ensure we are delivering high-quality and cost-effective care with a personal touch, PCPs will be better positioned to see their practices thrive," noted Mercy Health System CEO and President Susan Croushore. "Here at Mercy, we recently consolidated our three acute-care facilities' individual call centers into one to better address issues patients face with scheduling appointments."
Separate research has also shown that patients prefer a personal touch in their patient-provider relationships. Strong clinician empathy is valued during care encounters, as is the perception of teamwork and care coordination.
However, the patient-provider relationship is not proving enough to keep patients visiting primary care clinics over urgent care and retail clinics. Data from March 2016 showed that retail clinic visits are up 10 percent from 2013, likely because retail clinics help patients overcome the access issues they encounter with their primary care providers.
Primary care providers often have long wait times and convoluted scheduling processes, making it less appealing for patients to visit when they have a non-urgent or basic health concern. Physician appointment wait times have increased by 30 percent since 2014, according to data from Merritt Hawkins.
Primary care providers will need to continue prioritizing patient-provider relationships while overcoming patient access issues to truly maintain their market share. PCP offices should look at appointment scheduling optimization and using their workforce judiciously to ensure patients can access their providers in a simple and timely manner.