U.S. Primary Care Compared

A new survey of more than 13,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) in 11 high-income countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States), published this week in the Health Affairs journal, shows where the U.S. is falling behind, where we are keeping pace, and possible paths to improvement.

  • Only about half of U.S. physicians reported that they are usually notified when one of their patients is seen in the emergency department or admitted to a hospital, compared to 79% to 85% of physicians in the Netherlands and New Zealand who reported usually receiving these notifications
  • About half of U.S. physicians reported being able to exchange patient information, such as clinical summaries, laboratory tests and medication lists, with physicians outside their practices, in contrast to 72% to 93% of physicians in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden
  • U.S. physicians were the most likely to report offering patients electronic access to their health care information through portals and web tools that enabled them to make appointments, refill medications, and see visit summaries and lab tests online
  • PCPs in the U.S. and their counterparts around the world share significant challenges helping patients meet their health-related social needs, with about one-third of physicians in the U.S. saying that inadequate staffing, poor responses from social service agencies, or a lack of formal referral systems made it difficult to help provide patients with critical non-medical health-related services
  • Strengths of the U.S. healthcare system are that nearly all primary care practices have electronic medical records, and providers, health systems, and payers see the value of supporting patients’ unmet social needs and are looking for the best ways to support them

The authors conclude that a strong emphasis on primary care across our healthcare system and continued benchmarking of U.S. health care performance against that of other wealthy nations will point us to a higher-performing health system.