September 29, 2022

8 Steps to Implementing Advanced Primary Care

Robust primary care is essential to the ability to transform health care in the U.S. Adults who regularly see a primary care physician have 33% lower health care costs and 19% lower odds of dying prematurely than those who see only a specialist. Additionally, every $1 increase in primary care spending produces $13 in savings, and if everyone used a primary care provider as the principal source of care, the U.S. could save $67 billion annually. As part of its pioneering work to define and promote the adoption of advanced primary care, PBGH’s California Quality Collaborative’s primary care improvement efforts led to almost 50,000 hospital bed days avoided, emergency room utilization sharply reduced and total savings of about $186 million in California.

Despite these outsized benefits, misaligned financial incentives, chronic under-investment, infrastructure barriers and a lack of integration with other elements of care — including behavioral health — continue to severely constrain primary care’s impact on the health of American workers and families.

That’s why PBGH is spearheading the development and implementation of ‘advanced primary care.’ Our approach emphasizes bolstering existing primary care to treat more health needs within the primary care practice and refer to only the highest quality specialists when appropriate, increase patient access, integrate behavioral health screening and management, improve care coordination and expand tools and systems that can support population-based care for patients.

A new report highlights eight key takeaways from a discussion with representatives of large employers and public health care purchasers based on their experiences implementing advanced primary care.

1. Changing payment is crucial

Care delivery change requires payment change. Capitated payment – with some flexible incentives – will enable practices to meet clinical and health goals. A model predominantly based on fee-for-service or volume-based payment is antithetical to the core tenants of advanced primary care. Read about how Washington State Health Care Authority is tackling primary care payment reform.

2. Update operating systems or find new ones

Health plan operations are built to pay fee-for-service and are very challenged to pay differently. Whole Foods took a bold approach by creating its own system rather than relying on health plans. Learn how.

3. Align around standardized measures

Purchasers should align to adopt a set of priority standardized measures by which to assess care and service. Through a multistakeholder consensus process, PBGH has selected a set of evidence-based clinical and outcome measures that collectively signal and reflect the desired outcomes of advanced primary care. See how Covered California is using these measures.

4. Redefine your investment priorities with payers and partners

The cost benefits of advanced primary care must be emphasized in negotiations with payers. But this does not mean paying more overall. The expectation is that total cost remains flat. Read about eBay’s perspective on investment in primary care.

5. Hone your message

Despite studies that have repeatedly shown how strengthening primary care can improve outcomes, reduce costs, enhance the patient and provider experience and improve health equity, those benefits are not always apparent to health plans, organizational leadership or even employees. CalPERS’s experience with mandatory primary care provider selection offers important lessons for other purchasers.

6. Think nationally and act regionally

Employers should take the lead in their communities and regions when it comes to enlisting like-minded purchasers in support of advanced primary care. This can include national employers with even a modest presence in the community. Read about The Boeing Company’s approach to this.

7. Identify a trusted authority that can help foster standardization and adoption

A neutral convener can play an important role in helping achieve consensus around common measures and definitions, and likewise serve as a focal point for payer, purchaser and provider discussions regarding implementation and payment challenges. Washington and California offer examples of how regional multistakeholder groups play a key and needed role in implementing national change.

8. Just do it

There is a tendency in health care to focus for too long on discussion and planning without pursuing or engaging in the practical or implementing change. It’s important to start the process of implementing advanced primary care. Read about steps The Wonderful Company is taking on behalf of its employees.

Related Content

Strengthening Primary Care: A Pilot with Four Large Purchasers

Together with the Integrated Healthcare Association (IHA), PBGH brought together four large health care purchasers in California to pilot this set of performance measures that emphasize patient experience and outcomes.

Employers Are Driving Innovations in Primary Care

Large employers are increasingly working with existing direct contracting partners and new vendors to enhance primary care, which includes, among other things, the integration of behavioral health care.

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action

Large employers and health care purchasers have increasingly begun to take actionable steps to strengthen primary care, the critical precursor to a high-quality, cost-effective health care system.

Using Primary Care’s Potential to Improve Health Outcomes

Through successive initiatives and in collaboration with a diverse group of committed stakeholders, PBGH has spearheaded efforts to create a blueprint for “advanced primary care.”