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Patients Discontented While Primary Care Physicians Left in the Dark

New Research Shows Patients and PCPs May Need to Communicate Better After Urgent Care, Retail Health Clinic, Emergency Department Visits

Harris Poll results

In February 2017, Harris Poll conducted an online study of over 1,700 U.S. adults who have PCPs on behalf of Mercy Health System. According to the results, continuity of care—one of the mainstays of modern medicine—isn’t so continuous for many.

“We wanted to enhance our understanding of dynamics that affect interactions between patients and their PCPs,” said William J. Strimel, DO, President, Mercy Physician Network. “The research findings show that both patients and physicians need to work harder to communicate to take advantage of the benefits offered by the more personal relationships patients can enjoy with their PCPs.”

Of adult patients (defined as U.S. adults over the age of 18 who have a PCP) who have visited the following locations, fewer than half followed up with their PCP after a visit to an emergency department (48 percent) and only one in four followed up with their PCP after a retail health clinic visit (25 percent).

Compared to retail health clinic visits, more adult patients seemed to follow up after urgent care visits (36 percent) with their PCP, perhaps related to the finding that nearly two thirds (65 percent) of adult patients assume their physicians would be informed about their urgent care visits.

Urgent Care v. PCPs

Despite the follow-up communication disconnect between PCPs and other types of providers, two-thirds (66 percent) of adult patients say they would seek health care services from an alternative source, such as an urgent care center, rather than their PCP due to scheduling issues. Among those who would seek health care services elsewhere, the top reasons for doing so were:

  • Inability to schedule a non-urgent appointment within the same week (43 percent)
  • Inability to schedule an appointment outside of normal business hours (42 percent)
  • Inability to schedule a checkup appointment within the same month (39 percent)
  • Unable to get through on the phone to make an appointment (39 percent)

Adult patients who are the parents of children under 18 are more likely to seek alternative care sources due to scheduling issues compared to adult patients who are not parents of children under 18 (80 percent vs. 59 percent).
Adult patients also highlighted other areas of discontent with their PCPs. Nearly two-thirds of adult patients (61%) would go to an urgent care center rather than their PCP for non-urgent health issues, and among them, they cited the following as reasons why:

  • If making an appointment with their PCP was too much of a hassle (41 percent)
  • If their actual PCP is not always available to see them when they come in for an appointment (34 percent)
  • If their PCP’s office is not conveniently located (30 percent)
  • If there is a long wait once in their PCP’s office (28 percent)

The Personal Touch

Though scheduling appears to be a major concern among primary care patients, the personal touch a PCP brings to the relationship counts. “At every level of our ministry, we strive to be a trusted partner for life,” said Susan Croushore, President and CEO, Mercy Health System. “The relationship between our PCPs and their patients is a prime example of how we work daily to improve the health of our communities and of each person we serve.”

Three out of four adult patients (75 percent) know the name of their PCP, while very few know the name of a care provider who most recently treated them at a retail health clinic (15 percent), urgent care center (12 percent) or free clinic (8 percent).

The personal relationships between PCPs and their patients may be a strong bond, with nearly six in 10 (59 percent) adult patients convinced their PCPs care about them, while nearly half (49 percent) believe their PCP knows them personally. However, just over one-third (38 percent) say their PCP is more focused on just treating health issues as they come up rather than on their overall, long-term health.

“The healthcare industry and reimbursement formulas continue to change. But what our patients needs from us does not. By better understanding patient concerns, focusing on building long-term relationships based on open communication, working to ensure that we are delivering high-quality and cost-effective care with a personal touch, PCPs will be better positioned to see their practices thrive,” said Dr. Strimel.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll from February 1–3, 2017 among 2,175 adults ages 18 and older, among whom 1,735 have a PCP. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. 

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