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Wednesday Apr 22, 2015

Don't Be Shy: Health is Primary Trumpets FP Success Stories

Health is Primary(www.healthisprimary.org) made the second stop on its city tour last week in Raleigh, N.C. -- my home state -- and it was a fabulous event that featured speakers representing a broad spectrum of primary care.

Reporter and author T.R. Reid, who moderated a panel discussion, noted that some of the most striking innovations to the U.S. health care system are coming from family physicians and other primary care health professionals, and it didn't take long for the panelists to illustrate his point.

© 2015 David Keith Photography

Here I am speaking with Karen Smith, M.D., during a Health is Primary event. Smith, past president of the North Carolina AFP, was one of the speakers during a panel discussion about primary care during the April 16 event in Raleigh, N.C.

North Carolina AFP President Thomas White, M.D., was among those panelists. White described his realization that the firefighters in his town, Cherryville, had an unusually high fatality rate. The problem was not the inherent danger of putting out fires, but that the lifestyle that came with the job resulted in an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. White found that firefighters suffered from stress related to their jobs and also from poor diet because of the unpredictable nature of their roles. After examining other risk factors for the firefighters, he ordered lipid screenings and blood sugar tests.

White's story illustrates that we family physicians can improve the health of our communities in many ways. Many of the firefighters were volunteers, and their health and well-being were vital to the health and safety of others in their small town.

When battling a blaze, firefighters work in pairs, following the mantra of "two in, two out." White pointed out that family physicians also work in teams -- we are paired with our patients. We're in it together to improve their health.

It was impressive to hear many stories of how primary care is affecting health care in my state and throughout the country. Family physicians often are humble and don't always share success stories. Health is Primary presents an opportunity to change that. The three-year communications campaign is designed to advocate the values of our specialty, demonstrate the benefits of primary care and engage patients in the health care system.

Last week's event drew a big crowd, including policymakers and members of the press. The message they heard was that family physicians can make a difference; we are innovative and we can solve many of the problems in our nation's health care system. It's a message we shouldn't be shy about repeating in our own communities.

Edward Bujold, M.D., of Granite Falls, was one of the family physicians sharing his story. Bujold transformed his small practice into a patient-centered medical home (PCMH) about five years ago. When he analyzed practice data before and after the transition, he realized his admission rate had dropped 80 percent. Although such dramatic results may be atypical, they show what is possible with practice redesign and team-based care.

Another interesting story came from Cathie Pettit, executive director of DirectNet LLC, a preferred provider organization that worked with a furniture company to match its employees with a PCMH.

Vanguard Furniture was spending about $10 million a year on employee health care when a review showed that two employees accounted for about $800,000 of that care. One of those patients had not received recommended preventive screenings and was undergoing treatment for cancer. The company's leadership decided it needed to do something different to improve the health of its workforce, lower its risks and bolster its bottom line.

Vanguard invested roughly $2 million on a system that linked employees with a PCMH and encouraged them to receive recommended preventive services. Despite the significant investment, the company was able to lower its annual spending on health care overall because its workforce was healthier.

Health is Primary is a product of Family Medicine for America's Health(www.fmahealth.org), a partnership of eight family medicine organizations, including the AAFP. The tour's next stop is scheduled for May 19 in Chicago.

Mott Blair, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 01:00PM Apr 22, 2015 by Mott Blair, M.D.

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