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Nurses May Not Fill The Primary Care Shortage: “We’re Not Suckers”

There is a critical shortage of primary care providers in the United States. The public’s perception is that there is no shortage, and politicians have spent very little time talking about how to address the shortage. The American Academy of Family Physicians has been carefully studying this issue and strongly recommends incentives for physicians who would consider primary care: increased reimbursement for non-procedural work, and medical school debt-forgiveness are two of many.

The universal coverage system in Massachusetts immediately unmasked the problem of the primary care shortage. Newly insured citizens have been astonished to discover that they cannot find a primary care physician even though they want one. Wait times often exceed 6 months, and very few physicians are accepting new patients.

I have had the privilege of listening in to various healthcare reform discussions among politicians and advocacy groups here in Washington. Every time I raise the issue of “what will you do about the primary care shortage?” they offer the same tepid response: all providers will need to “work together” to provide primary care services, and innovative programs like retail clinics and nurse-driven care models will help to fill the gap in physicians.

My friend and fellow blogger, Dr. Rich Fogoros recently wrote an amusing (and cynical) post about how physicians should simply “hand over” primary care to nurses. (The same argument that many politicians seem to be making). The only problem with this reasoning is that nurses may not be willing to provide primary care services for the same reasons that physicians aren’t too keen on it: the pay is low, the workload is grueling, and there are other career options that offer better lifestyle and salary benefits.

I spoke with a group of nurses on a recent podcast about this very issue and their view was that, “we’re not suckers” – primary care is not as appealing as ICU work, for example.

Gina (Code Blog): Not every nurse wants to go back to school for additional years and shell out a lot of money to become a nurse practitioner and then not make a whole lot more than we’re making now. I’ve worked with nurse practitioners who have come back to work in the ICU because they can’t make enough money in primary care to support their families.

Strong One (MyStrongMedicine): We don’t have enough educators to teach nursing at our nursing schools. Nurse educators are paid about a quarter of what they’d make at the bedside. There are long waits to get into nursing school because we don’t have enough instructors to handle the influx. Until that problem is solved we aren’t going to see in increase in nurses entering the market.

Terri Polick (Nurse Ratched’s Place): I have a friend who’s a nurse practitioner and she had to borrow over $100,000 for her education. I’m a three-year diploma nurse so technically I don’t even have a college degree – but I’m making a lot more than nurse practitioners and I don’t have all that debt. Politicians need to know that nurse practitioners can’t just “pick up the slack” from physicians. Nursing and medicine are two different specialties and we’re trained to do different things.

So for those of you out there who may have shrugged at the primary care shortage and figured that when the docs are gone, someone else will just pick up the slack – think again. Any national universal coverage system will simply unmask what many physicians have known all along: equal access to nothing is nothing. Without making primary care a more attractive career option for providers of all stripes, don’t expect an influx of any sort into the field.

Long wait times for basic healthcare will probably become the norm in America.

Lesley Stahl at BlogHer: False Information Is Giving Media (and Healthcare) A Bad Name

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I attended a fantastic conference hosted by BlogHer yesterday. It’s a strange experience, entering a convention hall filled with 98% women. My ears were ringing with an unfamiliar “crowd noise” pitch – instead of the usual rumbling that one expects on entering a ballroom full of people, I noticed the same volume of noise, but a few octaves higher. I suppose it was the sound of estrogen.

The co-founders of BlogHer, Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, and Jory Des Jardins are a media tour de force. Within a span of 3 years they have built the largest and arguably the most influential group of women bloggers on the Internet. BlogHer drives an astounding 4 billion page views per year and has 16 million unique visitors per year. 

The closing panel discussion was riveting. Lesley Stahl described the decline of television journalism, explaining that the line between pundits and journalists had been blurred beyond recognition.

Anyone on television is considered part of ‘mainstream media.’ There is no distinction made between opinion and fact. That’s why the media has lost trust in the eyes of Americans. Pundits don’t necessarily care about accuracy, and so traditional journalists (who spend a good deal of their time fact checking) are lumped in with them. I get tarred too.

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Healthcare Red Tape Of The Week: PQRI

How has the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI) been going? Some insights are offered from an internist in the trenches, (the only 1 of 20 physicians in his practice who was able to figure out how to comply with the PQRI rules), The Happy Hospitalist:

I found out today many docs may not have qualified because of the way the government PQRI computers crunched the data (imagine that). You see, if my quality indicator was for antiplatelet use in stroke, and I submitted to CMS stroke as the 4th ICD code, along with three comorbid conditions ( like DM, COPD, CAD), unless I submitted stroke as diagnosis #1, PQRI would reject my submission. So CMS accepts your E&M code with stroke listed as the 4th diagnosis to get paid, but when that claim makes it to the PQRI folks, because stroke was diagnosis #4 and not diagnosis#1, PQRI would reject the submission and doctors all over this country were dinged for not reporting on 80% of qualified patients…

I also found out that PQRI indicator #36 calls for rehab ordered for all “intracranial” hemorrhage. During my meeting today I found out that the only ICD codes linked to this quality indicator are “intracerebral” hemorrhage. Sub dural bleeds, which are intracranial, are excluded. So are subarachnoids. They have problems even defining what they are trying to measure.

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

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