New analysis provides trends in primary care visits and practice capabilities

The number of primary care visits may be declining nationally, but analysis reveals that in-person visits have become more comprehensive and follow-up care has moved online.

Researchers analyzed a weighted sample of 3.6 billion adult primary care visits from 2008 to 2015, collected through physicians surveyed by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. They found primary care visits declined from 336 million to 299 million visits per year, representing a 20% decline over the study period. The decline in visits was most pronounced among adults 65 and older, white adults, and those in rural areas.

Simultaneously, primary care physicians provided more preventive services and procedures per visit, with more diagnoses addressed and medications prescribed. During the study period, the number of physicians who reported offering secure online messaging increased by 60%, with a 44% increase in the use of electronic medical records. The findings offer an optimistic interpretation that the decline in primary care visits per capita may be driven in part by two key improvements in primary care practice, namely, physicians conducting longer, more comprehensive visits and the increased use of non-face-to-face care to address issues outside of in-person visits.

Journal reference:

Rao, A., et al. (2019) National Trends in Primary Care Visit Use and Practice Capabilities, 2008-2015. Annals of Family Medicine.


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