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Thursday Oct 23, 2014

We Are the Solution: Let's Spotlight Family Medicine's Value

At a state chapter meeting earlier this year I spoke with a family physician who questioned whether the AAFP's elected leaders understand and appreciate the challenges our members -- particularly small practice physicians -- face on a day-to-day basis. It wasn't the first time I had heard this comment, and it might not be the last.

The fact is I am a small-town, small practice physician. I practice full scope family medicine in the same Nebraska town where I grew up in, providing obstetric care, geriatric care and everything in between. I also am medical director for our local nursing home, a team physician for a local school and a volunteer faculty member at the University of Nebraska. I know comprehensive family medicine because it has been my life -- and my passion -- for the past 30 years.

This coming year, however, might be the most exciting yet for me and for family medicine. Today, the Academy, along with seven other national family medicine organizations, will launch a three-year national advertising campaign(www.healthisprimary.org) -- the culmination of the Family Medicine for America's Health  initiative -- using advertising, news media, online and digital communications to educate decision makers about the value of family medicine and primary care. The campaign also is designed to educate patients and get them more involved in their own health care. And work will begin this fall on the implementation of a five-year strategic planning effort.(www.fmahealth.org)

During the next few years we will work to engage and inspire medical students to work in family medicine by connecting them with our vision for the future of health care. The number of medical students choosing family medicine has increased five years in a row, but we need even more family physicians to meet the needs of our health care system. My own son is a fourth-year medical student who is interested in family medicine, but I understand that the staggering debt many of his peers face coming out of medical school makes it difficult for some to see the rewards of family medicine.

One of the focuses for my presidential term will be to break down barriers that prevent students from choosing a career in family medicine. This needs to be approached on two fronts: debt relief for doctors who make the socially responsible choice to be family physicians and improving payment to appropriately value our services.

The current fragmented system of health care delivery is costly and of low quality. The core value of family medicine -- comprehensive, continuous and coordinated care -- is being recognized as the solution to delivering high quality, cost-effective care. Our new campaign will coincide with a five-year strategic implementation effort that will address not only  payment reform and workforce development but also practice transformation and research that supports our vision for the future of family medicine in an evidence-based way.

Another aspect of our new initiative will be to define family medicine and the scope of our specialty and to help our members practice to the full scope of their training. I tell students, "You choose your future," and I truly believe that statement sums up the advantages of family medicine. We can be as comprehensive as we want to be. If I have a patient who needs heart valve surgery, I can't provide that service. But I can find my patient an excellent surgeon who can perform that surgery, and I will be right there with my patient throughout that experience. The confidence my patients have in me is immense -- they trust me to do the right thing. I tell students they can have that same kind of relationships with their patients no matter where they choose to practice family medicine.

There are a number of new and expanding medical schools, but our country needs more family medicine residency positions to ensure that graduates have a place to continue their training. The Academy recently introduced a proposal that would drastically change graduate medical education.

Another area of emphasis for me will be to reach out to members, listen to their concerns and work to bring the joy back to practicing family medicine. Whether I'm visiting state chapters, lobbying on Capitol Hill or meeting with health plans, you can keep up to date on what I'm doing on your behalf by following me on Twitter @aafpprez(twitter.com) and the AAFP President's Facebook page(www.facebook.com).

In this coming year we are going to shine a bright light on family medicine and define its value. This is an incredible time to be your president, and I thank you for the opportunity.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Posted at 09:00AM Oct 23, 2014 by Robert Wergin, M.D.

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