As reported earlier here in The Sentinel Effect, there are interesting R&D and investment opportunities in primary care IT. This opportunity is complicated somewhat by the fact that there are only half as many primary care doctors in practice now as there were ten years ago.
That means the potential customer base has shrunk, but at the same time – as the California HealthCare Foundation observes – the need is greater for those docs that remain. The CHCF’s news item is based on a Wall Street Journal profile of a primary care doc who’s using technology in an attempt to run a profitable “micropractice.”
Primary care physicians don’t make very much money in this country, which is a sign of the inverted economic priorities in our healthcare model. (HMOs were, ironically, an idealistic concept when they were first being designed. It was thought that under this model the HMO would have a financial incentive to keep people well. An increased role for primary care, with better reimbursement, was a hoped-for but never realized side benefit.)
Smaller potential market, exponentially greater need. And as we wrote earlier, U.S. primary docs lag well behind their European counterparts in access to IT and health information. Our conclusions?
- The remaining market is big enough to be profitable for somebody.
- The need is substantial.
- Healthcare reform, if any, will increase that need.
Primary care IT needs to move into the 21st Century.