The Future of Family Medicine and Primary Care: 3 Ways to Reinforce a Sustainable System

With a new year, comes new hopes and goals for how we can make a positive impact on our communities and patients. And while at Hint we may have ambitious goals of disrupting the traditional fee-for-service model, in theory this doesn’t have to be as dramatic as it sounds. Really, what we believe will result in a more successful healthcare model starts with primary care and connecting with our communities.

Dr. Ada Stewart, a family physician and President of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) provided more perspective during Hint Summit 2D'21. Specifically, she shares three aspects to consider as we build a sustainable future for primary care and family medicine.

1. Hone in on proactive, preventative care

It’s no shock that our healthcare system currently prioritizes financial incentives for treatment of the most sick. But most illnesses are preventable, especially when physicians are able to take the time to evaluate a patient’s social determinants of health. One tactic Dr. Stewart uses is encouraging patients to share what’s happening in their lives on a day-to-day basis. Getting this holistic view of a patient is what makes family medicine practitioners such a powerful and valuable asset to the healthcare system.

Proactive care has never been more powerful and critical than during the pandemic. However, what it has also illuminated is that not everyone has access to equitable and affordable care.


2. The power in community involvement

Healthcare starts at home, and involving the community is critical to establishing and maintaining healthy outcomes.To build this practice, family physicians and primary care providers must build trust with their patients and form relationships with local leaders and facilities. 

This point was reiterated by Dave Chase, co-founder of Health Rosetta, and Dr. Clint Flanagan, Founder and CEO of Nextera Healthcare, during another Hint Summit Session. They surmised that to transform the health of our nation, you have to do it community-by community.

So, where do you begin? First, foster open dialogues about health concerns – access, cost, etc. Second, look outside traditional healthcare providers and involve key stakeholders, like employers. Many business owners want to understand how to provide better care for their employees; in order to do so, it’s important to discuss healthcare options available and the amount of spend they’re willing to commit.

Dr. Flanagan shared that 80% of the members in Nextera’s practice come from employers, and he’s often approached by employers who want to know how to provide better healthcare on top of existing PPOs that can often reduce overall healthcare spend. In fact, one of Nextera’s employer partners experienced an annual savings of $913 per member thanks to the values of direct primary care, including proactive and preventative treatment options.

By understanding the pain points and the avenues available – like onsite clinics – physicians, employers, and other community leaders can work together to ensure access and better health options for their communities. And the positive impact can encourage other groups in the community to follow suit.


3. Supporting physicians, clinicians, and students

Healthcare worker burnout is pervasive, and family physicians are facing high retirement levels. This is due to demand, an aging population with chronic diseases, and a fee-for-service system that acts as a hamster wheel — keeping physicians from spending the time they need with patients to truly identify and treat conditions, as well as build relationships.

In the words of Dr. Stewart, “We have to change the way we do business and transform healthcare to a more value-based system to get paid for the value we bring. The only way to build our workforce is to make sure we have the ability to pay our clinicians for the value that they bring. We have to do better.” 

She continues, “especially as we look to increase the pipeline, we have to consider students who are going into debt. One of the ways we can do this is to change our payment system to a prospective payment model that truly rewards family medicine and primary care for the services they provide.”

Physicians can take power into their own hands by transitioning to more value-based programs that reward quality care, like direct primary care. Support services are available to help make the switch, which ultimately results in better outcomes, lower healthcare costs, and happier physicians and patients.


Optimistic about the future of healthcare

Dr. Ada Stewart has a positive outlook about the future, despite the challenges facing our industry. She argues that now is not the time to quit medicine and physicians have a duty to advocate and use our organizational leaders to fight and make sure family medicine is the foundation of our healthcare system.

We all have a part to play in creating a more sustainable future for both primary care and family medicine.