New Research Finds Majority of Patients Happy with Primary Care Physicians, But Increasingly Concerned About Ability to Manage Healthcare Costs and Medical Debt 

Boston, MA, May 18, 2016 — The physician-patient relationship remains strong, with nine out of 10 U.S. adults noting high levels of satisfaction with their primary care physician (PCP). This is according to a new national patient survey commissioned by the Physicians Foundation, a non-profit organization seeking to empower physicians to lead in the delivery of high-quality, cost-efficient healthcare. However, patients cite increasing concern and frustration with their ability to manage rising healthcare costs and medical debt, with many indicating that they have avoided treatment plans, routine or specialty check-ups, or prescriptions as a result. These behaviors have far reaching implications relative to healthcare access, costs, resource utilization and overall patient health outcomes.

The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, a Nielsen company, on behalf of the Physicians Foundation in February 2016, gathered responses from 1,511 adults in the U.S. between the ages of 27 and 75 (a nationally representative sample) who had two visits with the same doctor in the past year.

According to the research, 95 percent of patients surveyed are satisfied or very satisfied with their PCP’s ability to explain information in a manner they understand, while 96 percent feel their physicians are respectful of them. Moreover, 93 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with how well their PCP listened to them during their most recent exam, with 92 percent noting high levels of satisfaction relative to how well their doctor knew their medical history.

However, the findings show that patients who saw a primary care physician for their most recent routine exam are not fully adhering to treatment plans, avoiding routine check-ups or opting not to take prescription medication due to rising healthcare costs. Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults are concerned with being able to pay for medical treatment if they get sick or injured. Almost half (48 percent) are not confident they could afford care should they become seriously ill. In addition, more than a quarter of U.S. adults (28 percent) have skipped a medical test, treatment or follow-up or avoided a visit to the doctor for a medical problem in the past 12 months because of costs. Twenty-seven percent of patients have avoided filling a prescription in the past 12 months, noting costs as a primary factor.

“The preservation of the physician-patient relationship is fundamental to the success of our healthcare system, and it is heartening to learn that more than nine out of 10 patients are highly satisfied with their primary care physician,” said Walker Ray, M.D., President of the Physicians Foundation. “The Foundation is, however, very concerned over the number of U.S. adults avoiding routine care and treatment plans due to healthcare costs.”

“Affordability of care has unquestionable impact on access. The responses we saw in our survey regarding non- or partial-compliance with care plans due to financial pressures must be a red flag for everyone invested in improving patient care. It is incumbent upon the entire healthcare community to ensure patients have access to quality healthcare services that they feel they can actually afford. Otherwise outcomes suffer.”

Leading Factors Contributing to High Healthcare Costs

Patients perceive a range of factors as contributing to rising healthcare costs. When asked to cite specific cost drivers, 59 percent of patients surveyed say it’s the cost of prescription drugs. One-third (33 percent) of patients cited fraud as another contributor factor, followed by social conditions and poverty (28 percent), government mandates (26 percent) and an aging population (25 percent).

A subgroup of patients in the study (n=1,374) have widely varying opinions relative to the affordability of different aspects of their health insurance plans. More than one out of three U.S. adults who purchased health insurance (34 percent) feel their health insurance premium is unaffordable. Among those who have insurance with a deductible, 39 percent feel it is unaffordable, 21 percent believe their PCP copay is unaffordable, and more than half (57 percent) think their specialist copay is unaffordable.

Perceptions of Stakeholders Impacting Treatment Options

U.S. adults in this research attribute control of treatment options available for medical conditions to a variety of sources. Overall, when thinking about treatment options available for medical conditions, patients relayed how much each of the following groups, as a whole, impacts treatment options available to them:

• Health insurance companies (83 percent)
• Physicians (79 percent)
• Pharmaceutical companies (68 percent)
• Federal legislature (60 percent)
• State legislatures (54 percent)

“Patients recognize that there is an array of stakeholders and external influences that affect treatment options and, in effect, clinical autonomy,” said Rip Hollister, MD, a practicing primary care physician and a Board member of the Physicians Foundation. “Historically, treatment plans have been developed between the doctor and patient. Yet, patients understand that there are now many other parties ‘in the room,’ so to speak, which complicates and challenges the manner in which physicians practice medicine.”

The insights garnered from this patient survey will provide a useful counterpart for the Foundation’s upcoming fourth Biennial Physician Survey, which will be released later this fall.

For more information and additional findings, please visit or click here to access the full report.

About the Survey

The Physicians Foundation Patient Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll, a Nielsen Company, on behalf of The Physicians Foundation between February 1 and February 11, 2016 among a nationally representative sample of 1,511 adults, ages 27-75, who had two visits with the same doctor in the past year. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey method, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Jennifer Korngut at or 917-595-3059.

About The Physicians Foundation

The Physicians Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to empower physicians to lead in the delivery of high-quality, cost-efficient healthcare. As the U.S. healthcare system continues to evolve, the Physicians Foundation is steadfast in its determination to strengthen the physician-patient relationship, support physicians in sustaining their medical practices and help practicing physicians navigate the changing healthcare system

Press Contact:

Jennifer Korngut
CooperKatz & Co. for the Physicians Foundation