The direct primary care (DPC) model enables the independent physician to spend more time with each patient, which benefits both the practice and the patient. The provider is able to do this because the patient panel for a DPC practice is typically much lower than that of a traditional primary care practice. The average number of patients for a DPC practice is manageable, enabling the provider to develop a quality relationship with each patient while also having some free, “pajama” time.
A traditional primary care practice may have a patient panel of 2500 patients or more. It is estimated that 60% of patients in traditional practices will wait two weeks for an appointment and only 10% will be able to see their provider on the same day. When in the office, the average patient waits 20 minutes for a provider visit that lasts about 10-15 minutes.
The DPC provider typically offers same-day or next-day appointments. The in-office visit usually lasts from thirty to sixty minutes. The expanded access to the provider is possible because the average number of patients for a DPC practice can be less than half that of the traditional model practice.
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A study published in 2020 found that DPC practices typically have fewer than 1,000 patients and generally their patient panels are between 200 and 600. The smaller patient panels give the DPC patient expanded access to the provider, resulting in increased patient engagement and improved patient outcomes.
The same study found that, when a primary care practice has in excess of 2,500 patients under their care, such a large number of patients can lead to other downstream issues for patients, including shorter office visits, longer wait times, lower-quality primary care, and physician burnout. In contrast, the improved access for the DPC patient manifests itself in longer-duration office visits, same-day or next day appointments, text or phone-based provider contact, and occasionally home visits.
DPC providers participating in the study reported an average patient panel size of 445. Their average target panel was 628. The average ratio of the current to target DPC patient panel sizes was 70% meaning that, on average, the current DPC patient panel was 30% below the target. For those DPC practices with a full DPC patient panel, the average length of time to fill the panel was 21 months.
As a result of their smaller patient panel and the structure of the DPC model itself, primarily that the practices do not accept or have to file for reimbursement for third party insurance payments, almost all of the survey participants reported that under the DPC model they have better or much better:
- “overall (personal and professional) satisfaction” (99%),
- “ability to practice medicine” (98%)
- “quality of primary care” (98%)
- “relationships with their primary care patients” (97%) under a DPC model.
Smaller patient panels and reduced administrative tasks result in more time spent with each patient. The result is value-added benefits for the patients and for the independent physician. Reduced overhead costs, more “pajama” time available for the physician outside practice hours, and improved patient care have all been identified as significant benefits of the DPC practice model.