Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.
Primary care medicine is in danger. On Monday, January 30, 2006, the American College of Physicians issued a warning that primary care medicine, as we know it now, could fall apart if immediate action is not taken. One unnamed spokesperson for the organization went as far as to say, ?Primary care is on the verge of collapse.?
There are numerous reasons for these concerns. Primary care physicians (PCPs) are the bedrock of health care in this country. When an adult becomes ill, she generally contacts her internist or family practitioner first. Based on this initial evaluation, a decision is made to treat, order tests, or refer to a specialist for a more detailed assessment. In the vast majority of cases, however, the primary care physician is able to address the problem.
However, despite their tremendous demand, PCPs receive the lowest median compensation of all the medical specialties. As a matter of fact, there are times when the insurance company compensates a doctor less for a visit than that doctor must pay out in overhead costs for the time the patient spent in the office. Unfortunately, due to tremendous financial demands, medicine is often treated as a business first, and a healing profession second. But realistically speaking, who can afford to run any organization in the red? At the end of the day, the staff must be paid, malpractice premiums cannot fall behind, and day to day office expenses have to be met if the doors are to remain open.
The escalating financial challenges of operating a medical office, coupled with the long hours and emotional burnout have turned primary care medicine from a highly desirable vocation to a drudgery for many hard-working, previously enthusiastic physicians. In addition, many young physicians have set their sights on more emotionally and financially rewarding specialties.
An American Medical Association survey found close to 35 percent of doctors in this country are 55 years of age or over and will soon retire. Far fewer medical graduates are entering the field than are retiring, which puts this country in sure peril if the tide does not turn.
In the midst of all the upheaval in medicine, it would be wise for everyone to become empowered to weather the storm. That means learning all you can about your current illnesses, how to prevent disease, and how to optimize your medical care. The Institute of Medicine already estimates that close to 18,000 Americans die each year simply because they lack health insurance. Just imagine how that devastating statistic will skyrocket if predictions about the future of health care in America become a reality.
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