Financial Chart Drawing and Stethoscope on Doctors Report Clipboard.
Locums News December 3, 2019

By Scott Files, contributor

Five Top Trends in Primary Care

Primary care physicians, we know you’re busy, but are you staying on top of the trends in primary care today? They may very well affect your current or future practice.

Here are some of the top issues and trends in primary care to be aware of as we near the end of 2018:

1. The need to expand the primary care physician workforce.
Experts continue to predict physician shortages across the spectrum of medical specialties, with the greatest concern focused on the shortage of physicians in primary care.

According to the 2018 update of “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2016 to 2030,” by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the shortage of primary care physicians could range between 14,800 and 49,300 by 2030.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) predicts that about 13,900 primary care physicians will be needed just to remove the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) designation from the areas currently affected.

But there is some good news. In 2018, the number of medical students and graduates who matched to family medicine residency programs hit an all-time high, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP): a total of 3,535 matched to family medicine programs, which was an increase of 298 from the previous year. That momentum and growth need to continue, noted Windel Stracener, MD, a family physician who practices in Richmond, Indiana.

Family Medicine for America’s Health, which is a collaboration of family medicine organizations, hopes to increase the percentage of senior medical students choosing family medicine from 12 percent to 25 percent by 2030.

If payment and administrative burdens could be appropriately dealt with, it might be enough to sway more students into the primary care pipeline, said Stracener. “When all of that is taken into account and streamlined and they’re adequately and appropriately paid, I think you would see more students start to choose those professions,” he said.

“And I think that we have to let students know what we do,” he added. “I think to some degree, we are too much of a well-kept secret.”

2. A growing emphasis on physician well-being and the risks of burnout 
Another issue that’s frequently cited as relevant to all physicians is burnout. Experts stress that the importance of physician well-being must be taken into account, or the system risks losing even more physicians.

“More physicians are beginning to understand what burnout is and how it affects them,” said Stracener. “It’s sometimes difficult to notice in yourself.”

3. A greater focus on social determinants of health
Have you been paying closer attention to the conditions affecting your patients’ health and well-being, including where your patients grow up, life, and work? More primary care physicians are monitoring these social determinants of health to find out how they affect the health of their patients and address them.

The AAFP recently launched The EveryONE Project to aid family physicians in addressing health disparities that affect their patients.“It’s not a new issue,” said Stracener. “But people realizing what a role it plays in the health care of our patients, it’s still fairly new, but I think the education is getting out there.”

4. Payment reform
Changes have been underway for a while now, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have been moving away from the traditional fee-for-service payment model toward value-based reimbursement.

Primary care physicians are slowly making the move and updating their care coordination capabilities and health IT infrastructure to accommodate a shift toward value-based reimbursement. A 2017 survey from the AAFP and Humana registered an increase in family physicians pursuing value-based care reimbursement opportunities.

5. Changes in employment settings
Medicine has experienced a trend toward physician employment in recent years, as the number of independent practices has declined. So, jobs in primary care could look a little different in the future, compared to a generation ago.

If you’re looking for a new job in primary care, don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re searching.

“Always inquire about physician involvement in leadership,” said Angel Mena, MD, chair of Halo Communications Physician Advisory Council. “Our clinical teams need to work hand-in-hand with administrators to achieve quality, safety, and financial goals. Also, it’s important to know about the practice’s involvement in population health initiatives, penalties, and incentives, innovation, safety and quality, communications platforms, and alignments with health system quality metrics.”

A possible option for some primary care physicians looking for a new employment setting is a locum tenens job since primary care doctors are in the highest demand. In fact, 43.5 percent of healthcare facility managers surveyed reported that they had used locum tenens, primary care physicians, within the past year, according to Staff Care’s 2017 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends.

STAFF CARE places physicians and advanced practitioners in locum tenens assignments across the country. CONNECT with a recruiter to learn more. 


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