Guest Post- Robert Bowman, M.D. (www.basichealthaccess.org)
Assumptions are often incorrect and the assumptions are incredibly inaccurate in primary care and in basic health access. When one starts with the assumption of more pay, then it is easy to rationalize more training or more complexity of care - even when there is little evidence other than assumption.
Primary care is often more difficult than specialty care. A major reason is that the design of health care in the United States destroys primary care delivery. Reasons for primary care to be challenging are the complexity of the patients, the lack of support staff, the lack of primary care trained support staff, the lack of experienced support staff, the broad scope of primary care, the lack of respect for primary care by those who clearly have little clue regarding primary care delivery, and participating in smaller operations that are neglected by the health care design.
The fragmentation of care with even more fragmentation on the way is a problem. The required context of care includes major care provided by Americans most left out of the designs for health and education – who often cannot access care other than the basics.
The reimbursement for primary care that is less than the rapidly increasing cost of delivering primary care forces primary care practitioners to do additional efforts outside of primary care to support their primary care practices.
The decision to pay more for care other than primary care is arbitrary. This design was set up beginning 100 years ago by those who envisioned domination of all of health care and who assumed their superiority. Even in the 1940s medical leaders still understood the challenges facing generalists – because some generalists still were in leadership positions and other leaders had been generalists prior to their specialization. Once the entire context of selection, training, and practice support was designed subspecialist, this understanding was lost and the current assumptions reigned unchallenged.
The subspecialty and academic forces reached their domination in the last decades, rebounded from the managed care reforms with even greater domination – and the United States has all of the cost, quality, and access consequences now that cripple our nation and its people.
There is supporting evidence for primary care complexity as greater at the current time. This includes the fact that two-thirds of primary care graduates (28,000 from six sources) depart primary care. All types are departing primary care with 55 – 85% of graduates after graduation other than family medicine graduates (who have fewest other options). There is lower national health spending on primary care (5% is all there is) and the locations where primary care workforce is highest percentage also receives lowest health care spending at 5% for rural locations and 5% for underserved locations. Established primary care practitioners have continued to depart primary care even during the 1990s periods of increasing policy support (PA, IM),
Few that are found in direct patient care primary care delivery from nurse, advanced nursing, nurse practitioner, PA, and IM training. Pediatric and medicine pediatric training both now yield less than a majority for primary care as well. In all of these types as well as in family medicine, a minority fraction of the training is spent on primary care. Primary care basics are taught, but it takes a lifetime of dedication to patients and to primary care delivery to even begin to comprehend primary care. Compare primary care and specialty care after a decade of care delivery. Who is worth more - my vote is for a dedicated primary care practitioner in a continuity location with a continuity team? Perhaps many if not most would contest this, but most comparisons are apples and oranges as primary care is so poorly understood.Training that yields primary care as a side effect of specialty care is also apples and oranges as the RN, NP, PA, MD, and DO primary care should be primary care in selection, in training, and in a lifetime of care delivered.
The US needs a foundation of primary care – a balance between primary care and other care. The designs must support this. Even 80% of physicians support more funding for primary care delivery (Leigh) but when asked to give up a few percentage points of reimbursement (that might not even impair pay), physician support melted away.
Once again I would note that nations need designs for care that serve nearly all in a nation nearly all of the years of their life in nearly all locations not a design that serves few for a few years in a few locations.
And there is always a nice video to review such as We're Number 37 in health outcomes www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVgOl3cETb4, not to mention a health care design that cripples our economy, all levels of government from schools to federal, our children, and our children's children.
The current design insures more graduates from NP, PA, DO, and MD with each passing year as well as higher percentages entering non-primary care as well as higher percentages of primary care graduates entering non-primary care. What we have is more like fantasy as compared to assumption.
Robert C. Bowman, M.D