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Direct primary care and physician burnout

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The burnout that independent physicians experience is a very real and increasingly significant challenge. Factors contributing to their burnout include being overwhelmed with paperwork, dealing with insurance reimbursements, and the burden of complying with regulations such as those included in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) requirements. In addition, most independent physicians are charged with the care of a very large patient panel, necessary to keep their practice financially solvent and to meet reimbursement requirements.

According to a study supported by the Mayo Clinic Program on Physician Well-being, there has been an upsurge in the number of physicians reporting at least one sign of burnout over the past several years. The study report concludes that “Burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in US physicians worsened from 2011 to 2014. More than half of US physicians are now experiencing professional burnout.”

How can the direct primary care (DPC) model contribute to relieving independent physicians of many of these burnout factors?

  • Smaller patient panel. DPC physicians generally see fewer patients per day. The practice does not charge a fee or co-pay for each visit, so there is no incentive to see more patients. The number of patients enrolled in the DPC’s membership fee plan determines the financial stability of the practice, not the number of daily patient visits.
  • Increased focus on patient care. With fewer patients comes more time to focus on each patient during the visit. Patients in a DPC practice are also encouraged to communicate with the provider outside of the office visit, for questions or clarifications.
  • No insurance reimbursements. The DPC model operates on patient membership fees and generally does not accept insurance from patients. The burden of filing and waiting for reimbursement is virtually eliminated in a DPC practice.
  • A simpler model. DPCs have a simple, straight-forward structure that helps reduce the stress of practice management and therefore helps reduce physician burnout.