CHIA and MHQP Release First-Ever Dashboard to Monitor the Health of Primary Care

(January 2023)

A high-functioning primary care system has been shown to lead to better patient outcomes, lower costs, and more equitable care, and is key to keeping patients well and out of hospitals and emergency departments.

That’s why the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine recently asserted that “primary care is a common good, which makes the strength and quality of the country’s primary care services a public concern.” In fact, many healthcare leaders have expressed worry about the health and sustainability of primary care in Massachusetts, especially in the wake of the pandemic which caused unprecedented disruptions across all health care settings.

It has been said that “we measure what we treasure.” Yet we have not had a way to monitor the health of this important public resource – until now.

This week, the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), in collaboration with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (MHQP), has released Massachusetts’ first-ever dashboard of metrics to monitor the health of primary care in the Commonwealth.

This dashboard will be an important tool for the state to create a factual foundation to drive policy initiatives and target resources to support primary care. Tracking the health of primary care is essential to identify areas that need strengthening across the key dimensions of:

  • Finance – how much are we spending/investing on primary care services?
  • Capacity – do we have the necessary personnel in the current primary care workforce and in the pipeline for longer-term sustainability?
  • Performance – to what extent is primary care serving patients’ needs and providing quality care?
  • Equity – to what extent are primary care resources equitably distributed and to what degree do access and utilization disparities exist across racial and ethnic lines?

This year, the dashboard provides baseline data for each metric, with plans to cover additional measures in future iterations. You can view a summary report of the dashboard HERE. Or you can view the dashboard on CHIA’s website HERE.

By regularly measuring and monitoring these indicators, we can improve the health of primary care, track the effects of investments and other changes to the system, and achieve the high-functioning primary care system we all deserve in Massachusetts. The metrics compiled in this first release of the dashboard tell a compelling story and highlight gaps in the primary care system due to low investment, diminishing capacity, and racial and ethnic disparities. Key findings include:

  • Primary care spending represents less than 8% of overall medical spending and declined across all insurance categories from 2019 to 2020.
  • In 2020, Massachusetts had a higher proportion (3.6%) of physicians leaving primary care than the United States overall (3.3%), and these proportions increased from 2018.
  • Cancer and other preventive screening rates declined from 2019 to 2020.
  • There were substantial racial and ethnic disparities in access to and utilization of primary care.

“Primary care services represent a vital component of the health care ecosystem in the Commonwealth and access to these services can meaningfully shape patient care and outcomes,” said Lauren Peters, Executive Director of the Center for Health Information and Analysis. “The ability to measure the sustainability of the state’s primary care system sets Massachusetts apart nationally and creates a source of truth to support public policy discourse.”

“A strong primary care system makes us all better and makes the health care system better for all,” said Barbra Rabson, MHQP’s President and CEO. “As a public good, primary care deserves our collective support, protection, and investment – and the first step is measurement. MHQP is thrilled to partner with CHIA to create this critical tool to help evaluate and strengthen primary care in our state.”

Read a related article in the Boston Globe

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