A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Prioritizing Primary Care

Prioritizing Primary Care

September 10, 2008

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reinforces the impending primary care shortage facing the U.S. physician workforce. Based on a survey of 1177 fourth-year medical students at 11 US medical schools, the analysis showed that only 23% of respondents planned to practice internal medicine with just 2% planning to practice general internal medicine. Researchers found a number of factors that influenced student’s reluctance to go into the field, including the demands of caring for an aging and chronically ill population coupled with increased burden of paperwork and administrative systems. Medical students also noted the comparatively lower salaries earned by primary care providers, given the high medical school debt carried by many graduates.

Primary care is a critical component of the healthcare system, ensuring access to timely, preventative and quality care. Primary care providers are the front line of the health care workforce, focusing on prevention and early detection, while developing provider patient relationships that support positive health outcomes. Additionally, a strong primary care workforce is essential to addressing the demographic shifts and emerging needs of diverse populations. With efforts to expand health insurance coverage taking place all over country, the demand for primary care providers will only continue to grow. Expanding access without sufficient providers only adds burden to the system and frustrates the existing workforce. Any healthcare system reforms must prioritize the renewal of primary care, addressing a number of issues from the recruitment and retention of medical students who will go into the field, to the medical payment reimbursement system. A strong primary care field is key to securing the improvements in healthcare status and healthcare system functioning we are all working to achieve.