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Investing in the Primary Care Workforce


I was heartened to read Dr. Chuck Williams Opinion piece today in the Clayton-News Star.  I was thrilled to see that they had featured a piece by a local physician and clearly overall do-gooder, Dr. Williams.

I echo the sentiments about the need for an investment in primary care in particular. In multiple studies primary care has been shown to both improve quality and reduce costs. Shi and Starfield showed in a 1999 study published in the Journal of Family Practice that the more primary care physicians you had per capita, the higher the life expectancy of the surrounding population.   Barbara Starfield's landmark study in 2005 showed that an increase in 1 primary care doctors is associated with 1.44 fewer deaths per 10,000 people.  Lastly, The Commonwealth Fund also did a study in 2005 that showed that 26% of US adults who went to the ER in the prior 2 years had conditions that could have been treated by a primary care doctor if one was available.

We need more primary care physicians, and we need them now.  Luckily, there are many provisions in the proposed health reform legislation that deal with this exact issue.  First, there is a 5% pay increase for primary care physicians --I personally think this is not enough -- but a good start.  Second, investments in models such as the patient-centered medical home allowing primary care providers to be appropriately compensated for the immense job of care coordination.  Third, increased loan forgiveness and scholarships for those who practice primary care, especially in undeserved areas.

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