What can family medicine in the U.S. learn from the organization of primary care in other Western countries? In this month's Georgetown University Health Policy Seminar, we explored two recent studies that shed light on successes and challenges of primary care reforms in Ontario, Canada and the European Union.
Starting in 2000, policymakers in Ontario implemented a primary care reform strategy based on five national objectives, which are strikingly similar to many proposed U.S. reforms: "1) increasing access to primary care organizations that would provide a defined set of services to a defined population; 2) increasing emphasis on health promotion, disease and injury prevention, and chronic disease management; 3) expanding all-day, every-day access to essential services; 4) establishing interdisciplinary primary care teams; and 5) facilitating coordination and integration with other health services." As a result, an almost entirely fee-for-service primary care system was gradually replaced with a mixture of salary-based, capitation-based, and blended fee-for-service payment models by 2012. Far from being demoralized by the rapid changes, Ontario primary care physicians actually reported increasing satisfaction during this transition period.
Another study in the same issue of Health Affairs analyzed associations between the strength of primary care systems in 31 European countries, national health expenditures, and measures of population health. The study found that countries with more robust primary care had lower hospitalization rates and less socioeconomic inequality in self-rated health, in addition to better chronic disease outcomes. However, these advantages came at the cost of higher baseline health care spending, though spending growth appeared to be slower in countries with a comprehensive primary care bedrock.
What lessons should U.S. policymakers take home from this research?
- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH
Director, Robert L. Phillips, Jr. Health Policy Fellowship
Department of Family Medicine
Georgetown University School of Medicine