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Where Have All the Family Practice Doctors Gone? First Aid for Primary Care

By Alan W. Dappen, MD; Steve Simmons, MD; Valerie Tinley, FNP of Doctokr Family Medicine

We are a family doctor, an internist and a family nurse practitioner working on the front line of the American health care system. We share a moral and ethical duty to protect the health of our patients along with all our colleagues who labor daily doing the same.We as Americans are proud of what has long been considered a first-rate health care system. Sadly, this system is broken despite our best efforts. Americans spend much more per capita for care as any other country. The World Health Organization has graded our care as 37th “best” in the world. Even worse, American citizens were the least satisfied with their medical care compared to the next five leading socialized industrialized countries, including England, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are many things wrong. Let’s examine a few:

Primary care medicine in America is gasping for its last breath. Internists, family doctors, pediatricians (whom health experts consider essential to a robust and cost-effective delivery system) are leaving primary care in droves. The number of newly trained generalist doctors has plummeted so fast that extinction of the generalist doctor has been forecasted within 20 years by both the American Academy of Family Practice and the American College of Physicians.

Patients are angry and exasperated with long delays, poor service and confusing and redundant paperwork. To date 17% of us are uninsured and this number will quickly grow in a deepening recession.

Employers face a huge cost burden as health insurance prices go through the roof. CEOs consistently say the runaway costs in health care benefits (which double in price every seven to ten years) threaten the viability of their companies. Since 2000, the number of small businesses offering health insurance has dropped 8%.

Health insurance companies are making so much money that several states have motioned legislation compelling insurance companies to disclose the percentage of premiums spent on actual medical care. Not surprisingly, their lobbyists are resisting. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to keep 30-40% of every dollar for “administration” and profits. Many of these companies are on record reaffirming their commitment to shareholders and short-term profits.

Doctokr (“doc-talker”) Family Medicine is a medical practice that was created to respond to the conflicts and problems listed above. We have worked to resuscitate the soul of the Marcus Welby-style patient-focused physician while adding technology to deliver fast, responsive and informed care. All fees are transparent and time-based and are the responsibility of our patients to pay. All parties that interfere with the doctor patient relationship or increase our costs have been removed from the equation. The practice delivers “concierge level” services: 24/7 access, connectivity to the doctor no matter where our patients are located, same day office visits for those that need to be seen, even house calls for those unable to get to our office. By removing the hurdles and restoring transparency and trust, 75% of our clients get their entire primary care needs met for $300.00 a year.

This post is written by three medical professionals who stopped waiting for someone else to find a solution and are actively changing primary care in ways that dramatically improve quality, convenience and access, while drastically reducing costs. The US deserves excellent health care and it must be done right. To understand why we would bother to “walk the walk,” we ask your indulgence and participation while we “talk the talk.” We hope this format will educate and inform you in ways that move you to participate in your care. Health care is about you, just as much as it about us, because we are all patients. We all have a stake in shaping the inevitable need for reform.

The next upcoming topics:

  1. Where did the Marcus Welby, MD-style of primary care go and how can we get it back?
  2. How have you as a patient lost control of your body and health?
  3. Turning the primary care model upside down: What does primary care need to do to reinvent itself so that it serves its patients without other conflicting interests?
  4. Begin the exploration of the unexamined assumptions of health care….

Until next week, we remain yours in primary care.

– Alan, Steve, and Valerie

   

New Media Summit: Matthew Holt, Dr. Roy Poses, And Me

I was a panelist at Edelman’s CHPA New Media Summit today in New Brunswick, NJ. Matthew Holt (of the Healthcare Blog and Health 2.0) was the keynote speaker, and I participated on a panel discussion with Dr. Roy Poses. It was exciting to meet Roy in person for the first time, as I’ve been following his policy blog for some time.

Matthew presented a very rosy picture of Health 2.0 (consumer-driven healthcare), more or less suggesting that it could provide a large part of the solution to our current healthcare crisis. I countered with a more cautious view, explaining that expert engagement would be critical to Health 2.0’s success.

Matthew argued that sites like Patients Like Me were enabling patients “to do their own clinical trials online,” and that this was opening a whole new avenue for research. Dr. Poses and I were fairly concerned about this suggestion, primarily because we understand how easy it is to draw false conclusions from data, especially when the data are not collected in a systematic fashion.

I explained to the audience that association does not prove causation (E.g. Do matches cause lung cancer? No, though it’s true that people who smoke are more likely to carry matches). I also described a case in which a Health 2.0 principle went terribly awry: a group of consumers were asked to rate their medications for efficacy by disease/condition. This was supposed to leverage the “wisdom of the crowds” to determine which medicines worked best (by popular vote). Of course, the result was that every pain syndrome (low back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, etc.) resulted in a narcotic pain medicine as the highest ranked treatment option. Do you really need Oxycontin for that tension headache of yours? Obviously, narcotics are popular among users – but are a last resort for pain management in the real world. The “wisdom of crowds” rarely works in healthcare.

Matthew agreed to disagree with me on a number of issues – but we certainly found common ground on the primary care crisis. He and I both believe that a shortage of primary care physicians is going to result in a catastrophic shortage of care for Baby Boomers in the next decade. Dr. Poses added that primary care physicians make the same salary as school teachers in his home state of Rhode Island.

I think we have to agree with KevinMD – the way forward is not going to be pretty.


Nursing Bloggers Dish About The State Of Their Profession

I was following an interesting conversation on Twitter between several nurses. They were expressing concern about how nursing stereotypes were damaging to their profession. I invited them to discuss the subject with me via podcast.I have summarized some key points below.

You can listen to the whole conversation here.

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Participants:

Gina from Code Blog (6 year veteran blogger, and has spent 11 years as an ICU nurse)

Strong One from My Strong Medicine (an anonymous blogger, athletic trainer and nurse of 3 years)

Terri Polick from Nurse Ratched’s Place (has held various positions in nursing, including psychiatric nursing for 20 years)

Current Nursing Challenges:

1. Nursing Instructor Shortage – nursing instructors make about 25% of the salary of nurses who do clinical work. Therefore, there are long wait times to enter nursing school due to instructor shortages. Many students can’t afford to wait, and choose other careers.

2. Inequality of Respect – some nurses feel that they have to continually prove themselves despite their training and qualifications. Patients often express disappointment or annoyance when they see a nurse practitioner (rather than a physician) in a group practice. Some doctors still expect nurses to give up their chairs when they enter the room.

3. Nursing Stereotypes – the “naughty nurse” and “nurse Ratched” images are still very much in the forefront of peoples minds when they think of nursing as a specialty. Some people believe that nurses simply pass out pills and make coffee, when in reality they are active in complex technical procedures and saving lives. These stereotypes and misconceptions denigrate the education and technical expertise of nurses.

4. Primary Care Doesn’t Pay: nurse practitioners incur higher debt and have lower salaries than specialist nurses. Just as in the medical profession, there are no incentives for nurses to choose careers in primary care.

Strengths of Nursing:

1. Nurses Are Better And Brighter Than Ever – since getting into nursing school is so competitive, the quality of individuals who are entering nursing school has never been higher.

2. Job Flexibility – nurses can easily transition to part time work for maternity purposes. Nursing careers offer a wide variety of work experiences – from nursing home work, to cardiothoracic surgery. One license offers hundreds of various opportunities.

3. Job Satisfaction – saving lives and serving patients contribute to a sense of job satisfaction.

What can be done to improve and advance the US nursing profession?

1. Establish an Office of the National Nurse. The National Nursing Network organization is promoting this initiative. The National Nurse would act as a government spokesperson for nurses-  promoting preventive medicine, increasing awareness of nursing, and securing financial support for nurse education. He or she would be the chief nurse officer of the US public health service.

2. Do not be afraid to speak up. Nurses should feel comfortable defending their professional ideals, and discouraging stereotypes.

3. Blog to raise awareness of nursing challenges and successes.

**Listen to the podcast**

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