Survey: Many clinicians say future of primary care is ‘uncertain’
New survey results show that primary care clinicians have an increasingly active role in COVID-19 vaccination efforts, but they are simultaneously grappling with an “uncertain” future, according to the Primary Care Collaborative.
The survey was completed by 702 primary care clinicians in the U.S. and its territories from July 9 to 13. The data, released by the Larry A. Green Center in conjunction with the Primary Care Collaborative and 3rd Conversation, revealed that 4 in 10 clinicians worry primary care will be gone in 5 years, and 1 in 5 expect to leave the field within the next 3 years.
“As the federal government updates guidance to keep COVID-19 at bay, it also needs to implement strategies to support primary care, which is a vital ally in the vaccination effort,” Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative, said in a press release.
Although the stress from the pandemic had partially subsided during the time of the survey, with 76% of clinicians reporting the strain of COVID-19-related changes and pressures as low to moderate, many primary care clinicians were “just not hopeful about what the future holds,” Greiner told Healio Primary Care. According to the results, 36% of primary care clinicians are constantly lethargic, struggling to find joy in anything and/or maintain clear thinking.
The results further showed that 38% of clinicians face structural obstacles such as an inability to staff positions or maintain patient volume. Although more than half of clinicians reported having enough COVID-19 vaccines for their patients, 53% also reported that vaccine hesitancy is high and hard to counter.
Many survey respondents believe that the federal government has a role in improving primary care. Forty-six percent requested policy changes regarding payment and a move away from fee-for-service models. Despite 13% citing that their main challenge for the next 6 months was high-level burnout/exhaustion and were considering selling their practice, 56% said that policymakers should protect primary care.
“Primary care is the front door to the health care system for most Americans, and the door is coming off its hinges,” Christine Bechtel, co-founder of 3rd Conversation, said in the release. “The fact that 40% of clinicians are worried about the future of primary care is of deep concern, and it’s time for new public policies that value primary care for the common good that it is.”
A weakened primary care system would likely impact other specialties, and local manifestations of this problem have already been seen, according to Greiner, who identified Delaware as an example. Specialists in the state were struggling to care for an overflow of patients, many of whom could have been seen in a primary care setting, Greiner said. In response, specialists joined their colleagues in primary care to advocate for a bill that aimed to strengthen the primary care health system.
Greiner encouraged primary care clinicians to work with diverse stakeholders to “make the case to decisionmakers about the importance of primary care.”
“They are successfully doing that state after state,” she said. “Also, we are getting some traction at the federal level. I’m confident we can turn the current picture around.”
Primary Care Collaborative. Primary care & COVID-19: Round 29 survey. https://www.pcpcc.org/2021/07/26/primary-care-covid-19-round-29-survey. Accessed August 2, 2021.
Primary Care Collaborative. Primary care stepping up involvement in COVID vaccination effort but future of primary care is uncertain. https://www.pcpcc.org/2021/07/30/primary-care-stepping-involvement-covid-vaccination-effort-future-primary-care-uncertain. Accessed August 2, 2021.
Primary Care Collaborative. Quick COVID-19 primary care survey. https://www.pcpcc.org/sites/default/files/news_files/C19%20Series%2029%20National%20Executive%20Summary.pdf. Accessed August 2, 2021.