EDITORIAL: Primary care

Mississippi State University’s valuable research confirms what many communities have known for years: Our region and the whole state need more primary care physicians, but they’re critically needed in already under-served counties, especially in rural and high-growth areas.
The work by Mississippi State’s Social Science Research Center also found that increasing the number of Mississippians with health-insurance coverage, a political goal in health care reform and a professional goal embraced in general by most physicians and other health care providers, will raise the need for primary care doctors.
Former American Medical Association President Edward Hill, a physician in Tupelo and family physician expert, raised that issue in a recent editorial board meeting with the Daily Journal.
The Association of American Medical Colleges identifies Mississippi as one of four states with the lowest ratio of physicians per 100,000 population.
The association, which is a lobbying and advocacy group, seeks a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment, which would produce 5,000 additional doctors each year, but that would not in itself guarantee enough primary care physicians coming into the medical work force.
“If we expand coverage, we need to make sure we have physicians to take care of a population that is growing and becoming older,” said Dr. Atul Grover, the chief lobbyist for the association, in a New York Times article. “Let’s say we insure everyone. What next? We won’t be able to take care of all those people overnight.”
Grover also said increasing the number of doctors in the work force will increase health spending as coverage expands, but in the long term, “We have to increase spending to save money. If you give people better access to preventive and routine care for chronic illnesses, some acute treatments will be less necessary.”
The MSU study found that Northeast Mississippi already needs more than 60 additional primary care physicians. If more Mississippians become insured under any congressionally enacted health care plan, the doctor need will increase in proportion.
Findings in the family practice residency program at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo suggest that physicians may tend to establish practices based on family connections and proximity.
Perhaps cultivating those connections through community-based programs to pay for medical school costs, with a contractual long-term commitment to “home town” practice, could bring additional physicians to areas of greatest need.
No one knows precisely what a final health care reform bill will contain, or if it will pass.
Either way, it is a fact that many areas, particularly rural counties, badly need more primary care physicians.

NEMS Daily Journal