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Consumers value patient-provider relationships in primary care

Trust and communication are top-of-mind for consumers assessing the patient-provider relationship in primary care.

In a healthcare industry in constant evolution, the patient-provider relationship healthcare consumers seek tends to stay consistent, with patients saying in a recent U.S. News and World Report survey that they want a primary care provider who they trust, makes them feel heard, and comes highly recommended.

The poll of around 2,000 adult patients revealed that patients are connecting with primary care providers, with 73 percent saying they’ve had an annual physical within the last year. That’s good news, considering the outsized role primary care access plays in overall patient well-being and preventive care.

Still, there’s room for improvement, with 12 percent of respondents telling the poll they were unsure of when they’ll go in for their next physical. A third of patients say difficulties booking a PCP appointment get in the way, while 10 percent said they were afraid of getting sick from others during a PCP visit.

And notably, many patients are simply turned off by the patient-provider relationship.

While 81 percent of folks with a recent wellness visit said they were seeing the same doctor they’ve seen before (indicating a good relationship) and more than 90 percent reported trust and comfort, that good relationship is missing for those without a recent visit.

In fact, a poor patient-provider relationship—or concerns about building a good relationship—is what’s keeping these patients from accessing care.

A quarter of folks without a recent PCP visit said they don’t like going to the doctor, and 12 percent said they haven’t found a PCP they like. One in 10 said they have previously felt shamed or judged by doctors.

Improving patient access to primary care must begin with building better rapport, the data suggested. Focusing on relationship-building skills like empathy and cultural competence will go a long way in this area.

According to patients, PCPs who ask questions in a nonjudgmental way and who follow up questions with the next steps or clear answers help put them at ease and make them feel understood. Compassion, being nonjudgmental, and providing clear explanations of next steps are also linked to easing of patients’ nerves, the survey showed.

But it’s not just the interpersonal skills patients are looking for in their primary care providers. Just over a quarter (28 percent) said they want a PCP who has experience related to a health condition they might have, while 13 percent want racial or gender concordance with their providers.

Patients are also concerned about provider reputation, with 24 percent saying they search for doctors with good patient reviews and 13 percent saying they look for one affiliated with a highly rated hospital.

Other survey insights include what patients do and do not want to know about their clinicians (stance on alternative medicine and vaccines, and political affiliation, respectively) and what keeps patients from following clinical advice (difficulty implementing in daily life and affordability).

The survey also outlined what patients want in the health IT their PCPs use for patient engagement, specifically the patient portal.

Most commonly, most patients want to be able to view their test results using the patient portal, with 57 percent saying as much. Another 47 percent wanted to request prescription refills, while the same proportion wanted to schedule an appointment using the patient portal. Four in 10 (42 percent) said they wanted to secure message their PCP over the patient portal.

These survey results should offer key insights for PCPs about how they can better engage their patients, the report authors said.

“PCPs can be a valuable part of a person’s medical journey – both to prevent health emergencies as well as to effectively manage ongoing health conditions,” they said. “While many Americans have a PCP whom they see regularly and report positive experiences with, there are still millions of people who do not see a PCP on a regular basis for a variety of reasons, from time constraints to trust issues and poor prior experiences.”

Indeed, separate data has shown that the number of people with a usual source of care (typically a PCP) is increasing.

The number of Americans with a usual source of care has dropped 10 percent in the last 18 years, with only about three-quarters of people saying they have a regular primary care provider or at least a facility where they know they can access care, according to the Primary Care Collaborative (PCC) and AAFP Graham Center.

A different analysis from The Commonwealth Fund showed that the US leads in number of people without a usual source of care. The researchers blamed workforce shortages, clinician burnout, and poor reimbursement strategies for primary care’s downswing.

Policy changes aside, this latest data from US News and World Reports indicates that building out widespread public trust by way of better individual patient-provider relationships could help close this gap and help clinician retain the patients they already have.

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