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How many patients are most primary care physicians seeing?

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The number typically used when discussing the standard panel size for a primary care physician is 2500. However, according to various research studies, that number seems unrealistic and unreasonable. An article published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (JABFM) states that “a family physician would need 21.7 hours per work day to deliver recommended care to a panel of 2500 patients.”

The panel size of 2500 is “anecdotal,” rather than based on factual research. In fact, according to the JABFM article, a research study conducted in 2005 arrived at a figure of 2300 for the typical patient panel size for primary care physicians. More recent studies have found “current panel sizes ranging from 1200 to 1900 patients per physician.”

As the JABFM article points out, smaller patient panel sizes enable the primary care physician to focus more on each patient, giving each patient more time and attention, and enabling the primary care physician to more effectively coordinate care, particularly for those patients with chronic or complex conditions. The article notes that primary care physicians “who provide continuity of care to an appropriately sized panel of established patients are better equipped to address the individual needs of their patients; they also have more time available to coordinate care with subspecialists, improve communication with their patients, provide behavior change counseling, evaluate quality, and monitor patient outcomes.”

The 2018 Survey of AMERICA’S PHYSICIANS Practice Patterns & Perspectives – the Physicians Foundation, a research study involving 8,774 physicians, found that those physicians responding to the survey “see an average of 20.2 patients per day, down from 20.6 in 2016, but up from 19.5 in 2014 and 20.1 in 2012.” The survey involved both employed physicians as well as independent physicians running their own practices.

Even though many primary care physicians responding to the survey indicated they were at or above capacity, 20% of all physicians indicated they could see more patients, with the number reaching 25% for independent physicians. Interesting to note that the survey results showed employed physicians seeing 11.8% fewer patients than independent practice owners. The average number of patients per day for an independent practice owner was 22.8 and the average number for all primary care physicians participating in the study was 19.7.

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