Today’s healthcare consumers have access to a range of digital health technologies that are transforming how they can manage their healthcare. Accenture research shows that as these convenient self-management options evolve, consumers are less likely to engage regularly with a dedicated primary care physician (PCP). Younger consumers, especially, are less likely to rely on a single physician for their healthcare needs.
While PCPs still have a place in the healthcare ecosystem, their role in health management and their relationships with younger patient are changing. This shift brings new context to PCP shortage forecasts that are based on traditional utilization patterns. It’s time to take stock and rethink the future of primary care in light of the impact of digital health and shifts in consumer demand and expectation.
Shattering the status quo
People used to go to the PCP when they had a health issue to address. Times are changing. A recent Accenture survey shows a striking difference in PCP use across generations. Not only is PCP dependency lower for younger versus older adults, the younger the person is the less likely he or she is to actually have a PCP.
The reduction in PCP dependency challenges well-established assumptions about physician manpower needs that influence investments in residency programs, hospital recruitment and hiring on both national and local levels. As younger adults who need fewer PCPs age, service use will shift to include digital health tools as well as alternative practitioners.
Digital devices as health managers
More consumers are relying on digital devices today to help them manage their own health. While digital device use is significant across all adults, the survey reveals that it is highest among Millennials and then Gen Xers. Only Silent Generation healthcare consumers rely completely on professionals over mobile health devices to manage their health.
Even though people rely more on professionals today, there is a trend toward digital overtaking professional visits, including primary care visits. When consumers are using technology to stay healthier through monitoring and self-management, triaging issues or connecting to physicians virtually, office visits naturally become less necessary. For years, health systems have been shaped around the older adults’ utilization patterns. Now the system must evolve to integrate and pull through younger—and more digitally-demanding—adults too.
Going beyond the PCP
In addition to relying on digital health tools, consumers are turning to care teams that include healthcare professionals other than PCPs. These include nurse practitioners, physician assistants and physician extenders, specialists and urgent care centers.
Take Baby Boomers as an example of this trend. Ninety-one percent rely more on professionals than on mobile health devices to manage their health. Yet only 82 percent report having a regular PCP that they trust and engage with regularly. This gap suggests that Baby Boomers have a higher reliance on other professionals than have a dedicated PCP. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that this generation tends to seek out specialist care. Millennials rely more on other professionals too. But the thinking is that they tend to seek out urgent care, telehealth and retail clinics over PCPs. Specialty urgent care centers as destination hubs have a special appeal to both generations.
Putting change into practice
These healthcare consumer trends will not upend primary care as we know in the near future. But they will shape its evolution over the next decades. Leaders tasked with strategic and operational responses to consumer demand can act now to prepare for coming changes:
1 Accenture research. Age bands reflect age cohorts from the Pew Research Center.
2 Accenture research.