Number of Americans with a primary care doctor hits an all-time low

Number of Americans with a primary care doctor hits an all-time low as regular visits become too costly for poor and rural residents

  • The number of US adults with a primary care doctor fell from 77% in 2002 to 75% in 2015, equating to roughly 4.18 million people
  • Non-white males who are uninsured and live in the south are the least likely to have regular primary care
  • For Americans without complex medical issues, primary care decreased over every decade of age through their 60s

Fewer Americans have regular primary care doctors than ever before, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that about 4.18 million adults stopped having a established primary care physician between 2002 and 2015. 

Seeing a primary care doctor has particularly fallen out of favor with younger Americans and those without complex medical issues.   

The team, from Harvard Medical School, says the downward trend is concerning because past research has shown that people with primary care have longer, healthier lives and are happier with their care.

A new study from Harvard Medical School has found that the share of US adults with a primary care physician decreased by two percent from 2002 to 2015 (file image) 

For the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the team analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey between 2002 and 2015

The survey, run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, looks at the cost and use of health care and health insurance coverage in the US.  

Results showed that, in 2002, 77 percent of adult Americans had an established primary care doctor or center. 

This fell to 75 percent in 2015. 

While a two percent decline may not seem like much, this actually translates to about 4.18 million Americans. 

Regular care among younger adults – described as those in their 30s, 40s and 50s -dropped by six percent over the 13-year period.

Among US adults without complex or chronic, medical issues, primary care decreased over time in every decade of age through their 60s.

‘Primary care is the thread that runs through the fabric of all health care, and this study demonstrates we are potentially slowly unweaving that fabric,’ said Dr David Levine, an instructor in the division of general internal medicine and primary care at Harvard Medical School.

‘America is already behind the curve when it comes to primary care. This shows we are moving in the wrong direction.’

Researchers also found stark disparities in primary care that have been confirmed in past studies.

Non-white males who were uninsured and lived in the southern US were the least likely to have a primary care doctor,

The authors say that lawmakers should work to increase rates of US adults with primary care, including lowering health costs and improving access in rural areas.

In 2018, the US government said Americans spent $3.65 trillion on healthcare, a 4.4 percent increase from 2017. 

‘We know that primary care is associated with better health, yet fewer Americans have primary care than ever before,’ said senior author Dr Bruce Landon, a professor of health care policy in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School. 

‘To improve Americans’ health, we should prioritize investments to reinvigorate the American primary care system.’