Spending More on Primary Care Doctors is Key to Cutting Healthcare Costs

The cost of healthcare has been a hot-button issue for years now. Nearly one-third of Americans have medical debt, and over half have defaulted on it. And while politicians are trying to come up with ways to reduce this burden, one key factor could make all the difference: investing in primary care doctors.

As the CEO and Managing Partner of private investment firm gTC Group, I’ve helped grow profits in more than 10 industries. After witnessing major issues within the American healthcare industry firsthand due to a family tragedy, I shifted my focus to improving the healthcare industry. And what I found was historical missteps that left us facing ongoing systemic dysfunction.

The good news? One of these solutions is investing in prevention rather than spending dollars on treating disease after health has diminished. Having one doctor who follows your care consistently over time helps your doctor to anticipate and address arising health problems. Prevention and early detection save everyone time, money, and distress.

Estimates show that if everyone in the United States saw a primary care physician, total healthcare costs would decrease by $67 billion a year. A separate study concluded that for every $1 spent on primary or preventive care, $13 would be saved.

Yet, so much attention in the health insurance industry is focused on specialists. Those specialists are not meant to be health partners. They address specific problems, rather than overall and ongoing health concerns. In our current system, primary care physicians are responsible for their patient’s health and care using their longitudinal understanding of the patient, the patient’s environment, and local resources available to solve their patients’ healthcare needs. That includes referring patients to specialists when needed.

Placing the focus on your primary care physician to be a gatekeeper, as is promoted by most health insurance constructs, shortchanges the consumer. It keeps you from making vital contributions to your care without providing you the benefits of true partnership.

Instead, we need to see primary care physicians with a more holistic expertise. We should be investing in their education and knowledge of nutrition (including vitamins and nutritional supplements), sleep, and exercise. Failing to get these basics right leads to a weakening of the patient’s immune system and, consequently, creates the need for costly specialists.

Simultaneously, we need to increase the number of primary care doctors to make this solution work. The supply of primary care doctors is diminishing, and the ratio of primary care patients to doctors increases. The current insurance system makes it so that it is less lucrative and otherwise less appealing to become a primary care physician. In 2019, a record-high number of primary care positions were offered, and a record low percentage were filled. The more primary care doctors available, the more preventive care people would receive.

When the focus (and investment) shifts toward primary and preventative care, people can proactively take control of their health. This reduces medical costs because there wouldn’t be as much of a need for specialists treating a problem that could have been prevented. Plus, a healthier workforce increases productivity and promotes the overall well-being of a society. And all of that means massive healthcare savings.

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Todd Furniss has over 30 years of global experience in private equity, consulting, and operations as a senior level operating executive. He currently serves as the CEO of gTC Group, a private investment firm dedicated to creating value for stakeholders in middle-market, technology-enabled business services, financial services, and healthcare companies. He is also the author of "The 60% Solution: Rethinking Healthcare.” His life circumstances have led him to develop a passion for healthcare and a strong desire to address and rectify our current system’s shortcomings.

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