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What the research says about Direct Primary Care

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Direct Primary Care (DPC) is an innovative practice model that enables the independent physician to spend more time with patients and less time with billing paperwork. In a DPC practice, patients pay a regular monthly fee for services. The primary care physician does not bill the patient or an insurance company for each visit. While a relatively small percentage of physicians practice as DPCs, the model is growing in popularity and has support from organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

The AAFP cites research that shows that “DPC patients have better patient experience of care and improved clinical outcomes as they become more engaged in managing their own health care.” In the DPC model, patients have predictable costs as they pay a monthly membership fee that covers their primary care physician visits, lab tests, and communication with the physician beyond the office visits.

The Wall Street Journal reports that physicians who operate as DPCs “say the steady income from membership fees frees them from having to pack patients into 10-minute visits to make ends meet.” They are able to focus more on patient engagement while the patient is in the office as well as “handle many issues via text or email, which are rarely reimbursed in traditional fee-for-service medicine.”

According to the WSJ, research also shows that the DPC model “may work particularly well for patients with complex medical conditions who need careful monitoring and help coordinating multiple specialists.” A patient with a chronic or complex illness may need to visit the primary care physician multiple times each month, all of which would be covered under a single membership fee.

As there is still a small percentage of physicians operating as DPCs, there is little research available as to whether the model actually helps improve patient outcomes. As DPC grows, however, it’s likely that researchers will be more interested in studying how the model impacts access to care, care quality, and healthcare costs.