Most patients probably don’t bring a timer with them when they visit their primary care doctors. But if they did, they might have been unpleasantly surprised by the amount of time – or lack thereof – that the doctors spend with them.

Unfortunately, primary care has been steadily moving towards an “assembly-line” like system, where physicians are focused on seeing as many patients throughout the day as possible. In fact, a report by Medscape, showed that around half of all physicians spend less than 16 minutes with each patient.

Deteriorating Doctor-Patient Relationships

This is leading to some very serious problems on both sides of the doctor patient relationship. Patients don’t feel like they have enough time to understand what is going on with their health, and they don’t really feel like their primary care doctor is their first and best resource in regards to their health.

Meanwhile, seeing 30 patients a day in fifteen minute increments is not the reason that most physicians decided to go into medicine. They don’t have the time to be proactive, helping their patients stay healthy. Instead, they are forced be reactive, focused on treating symptoms and illnesses as they come up.

The Reasons Primary Care Doctors See So Many Patients

There are a huge number of factors that have caused this current system of primary care, but there are two in particular that are especially important.

The first is the model in which traditional primary care doctors get paid. The reimbursement a medical office makes from an office visit can vary depending on the insurance carrier, but it is usually between $70 – $150. For example, a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit leads to an average reimbursement of $111.

That means that a private physician’s is largely dependent on the amount of patients he can see every day. When you consider the cost of running a medical practice (rent, staff salaries, equipment, etc.) along with the high cost of medical school, it’s no wonder that primary care physicians don’t see any other choice than to fit in as many patients as they can every day.

This problem is made even worse by the second major factor – doctors have been forced to spend more and more time on administrative tasks. Right now, a doctor will typically spend 20 hours per week dealing with insurance, and even more time on documentation and follow up. Doctors simply don’t have enough hours in the day to spend as much time with their patients as they used to.

There is not an easy fix to these problems. Patients are beginning to look for alternatives to traditional primary care. These include urgent care, concierge services, and online resources. In the future we will look at all these options in-depth, and discuss the pros and cons of each.