In a new study, researchers have shown just how important primary care physicians are in prolonging our lives.
The research was led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.
They found every 10 additional primary care physicians per 100,000 people in the United States was associated with a 51.5-day increase in life expectancy during the decade from 2005 to 2015.
By comparison, the researchers found that an increase of 10 specialists per 100,000 corresponded to only a 19.2-day increase.
They suggest greater primary care physician supply was associated with improved population mortality.
This means observed decreases in PCP supply may have important consequences for population health.
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the United States will see a dramatic shortfall of primary care physicians by 2030.
Nationwide, the researchers found that the number of primary care physicians has increased.
However, disproportionate losses of primary care physicians in rural areas and overall population growth has led to a decrease in the density of PCPs per 100,000 people from 46.6 to 41.4 per in that same decade.
The researchers suggest that a lack of health care policies aimed at increasing primary care physician supply, compounded by market forces, have reduced the number of primary care physicians relative to higher-income specialties, such as cardiology and orthopedic surgery.
They encourage policymakers to consider the importance of encouraging more medical students to become primary care physicians.
The primary care physician counts were obtained from the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile for the years 2005, 2010 and 2015, and population counts came from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Five major causes of death were considered: cardiovascular disease, cancer, infectious disease, respiratory disease and substance abuse or violence (such as death from alcohol and drug use, self-harm and interpersonal violence).
Breaking that down to cause-specific mortality, the researchers found an increase of 10 PCPs per 100,000 people was associated with a 0.9 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality, a 1 percent reduction in cancer mortality and a 1.4 percent decline in respiratory mortality.
They also found that those people who moved to ZIP codes with more primary care physicians had substantially higher survival rates, as much as 114.2 days per decade for every 10 additional primary care physicians per 100,000 people.
Sanjay Basu, MD, Ph.D., a core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy, is the lead author.
The senior author is Russell Phillips, MD, professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard.
The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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