Small incentives could encourage more patients to seek out primary care

Access to a primary care provider can make a significant difference in the health of the patient. Benefits have been proven to include improved healthcare results, reduced costs, greater coordinated care, and more effective integrated services. However, having access does not always guarantee that the patient will actually visit the physician. Lower income patients, especially, may be hesitant to visit their primary care provider.

A number of studies have been conducted to determine why these patients do not visit their primary care physicians and whether financial incentives could actually encourage them to do so. Lower income patients may not want to make that initial primary care visit out of a fear of the additional costs involved, both at the primary care provider’s office and at any special provider, laboratory, or healthcare facility that may be recommended as part of their coordinated care.

Cathy Bradley, Ph.D., and David Neumark, Ph.D., conducted a study recently in which lower income patients were offered an incentive of up to $50 to visit their primary care provider. Some study participants were not offered any incentive, beyond the initial $10 to complete a telephone survey. According to an article published by AAFP, “Seventy-seven percent of individuals who received $50 completed a primary care appointment within six months. The rate dropped to 74 percent for those who received $25 and to 68 percent for those who received $0.”

Previously, in 2011, a similar incentive program that was funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), “to test financial incentive programs to encourage healthy behavior among Medicaid enrollees with chronic diseases,” found mixed results. That study found that incentives were more effective with encouraging patients to access preventative care for a single event, such as an immunization, rather than for ongoing primary care services.

For most patients, a visit to the primary care physician can be the beginning of a quality healthcare plan that includes building a positive relationship with the provider, communicating with that provider about healthcare concerns, and following the primary care provider’s guidance for improved health outcomes.