Hospitals and health systems have sharpened their focus on improving primary care access, with many organizations seeking to add primary care capacity through closer alignment with or employment of primary care physicians. Expanding primary care access strategically—with the goal of maximizing the reach of the limited supply of primary care physicians—requires that organizations consider the impact of local market demographics and practice patterns on primary care utilization.
Create demographic specific cohorts
The rate at which demographic cohorts utilize primary care services varies significantly across age and gender. Unsurprisingly, primary care utilization follows a pattern of strong utilization during childhood, lowest utilization during early adult years, and rapidly increasing utilization late in life.
For example, through age 19, males average a little less than two primary care visits per year. That figure drops by more than half among males ages 20-44, but then climbs back toward two visits per year in the age 55-64 cohort and tops three visits per year beyond age 75. While females’ visits to primary care specialists also drop during early adult years, they drop less severely than males’ visits and climb more rapidly during later adult years.
The type of primary care physician that patients see also varies across age and gender cohorts. While visits to pediatricians comprise nearly three-quarters of primary care visits by children, young adults use general and family medicine physicians for about two-thirds of visits. As adults age, visits shift from general and family medicine physicians to internal medicine physicians. Internal medicine use rates peak among females ages 65 and older, who rely on these physicians for nearly 60% of primary care visits.
Given such variation in utilization, market-specific demographics can significantly impact local market demand for primary care services, and planners should consider the size of age and gender cohorts while assessing primary care capacity and designing the primary care network. Given that demand for primary care will likely outstrip supply in most markets, strategic deployment of primary care resources will be critical to maximizing the potential benefits.
Access the tool
For support in assessing the impact of local market demographics on primary care demand, members of the Marketing and Planning Leadership Council may use the Primary Care Volume Estimator. The tool provides county-specific estimates of primary care utilization and the number of FTE primary care physicians necessary to handle primary care volumes.
For additional context on primary care planning, Marketing and Planning Leadership Council members can also access the Council’s recent publication Maximizing Primary Care Access. Not a member of the Marketing and Planning Leadership Council? Learn more on our website.
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