AAFP Statement: Family Physicians Respond to President's Health Care Agenda

Friday, February 04, 2005

Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237 Ext. 6252

Statement attributable to:
Mary E. Frank, M.D., F.A.A.F.P.
American Academy of Family Physicians

"We were pleased to hear President Bush highlight medical liability as part of his comprehensive health care agenda. This is one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed in order to improve health care and reform the United States tort system so that it works fairly and effectively.

"Any health care provider whose error or negligence causes harm to a patient should be held accountable. However, the "pain and suffering" portions of awards, sometimes in the millions of dollars, are too often based on attorneys' ability to squeeze doctors or influence juries who have little knowledge of the medical or legal implications.

"Medical liability insurance is expensive and the cost is skyrocketing. Medical liability insurance is one of family physicians' biggest expenses, costing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Because of the increasing costs, many family doctors have had to reduce services, such as delivering babies, or close their offices, even though most have never been sued or had a claim awarded against them. It's a national health crisis that needs a national solution.

"The most urgent reform is to create common sense national standards for courts to follow in making awards in medical lawsuit cases. We call for Congress to pass legislation for the president's signature this spring.

"We are also pleased that the president's health care agenda includes improved health information technology. Family physicians are convinced that patient safety, continued updating of medical practice with the latest scientific research, and reduction of unnecessary exams and lab tests require electronic health records (EHR). Therefore, the AAFP's goal is to have at least half of its members using EHRs by 2006. In an effort to meet this goal, the Academy has created the Center for Health Information Technology to improve the availability of affordable health information technology products for family physicians.

"It is important that President Bush and Congress understand that family physicians practice office-based primary care, predominantly in medical practices consisting of one to five physicians and often in underserved areas. More than 215 million office visits are made to family physicians each year, 59 million more than to any other medical specialty. In fact, slightly more than a quarter of family physicians work in single or two-person practices that provide health care to some 38 million patients every year.

"These small practices survive on extremely tight operating margins and usually are unable to pay for EHRs. They cannot afford the disruption to and time away from patients for the necessary technical training and office reorganization. The primary care physicians who provide most of the health care in this nation do not have access to the finances and capital available to hospitals, academic health centers and other large institutions. Despite a strong interest in EHR technology, large up-front costs such as the initial fees and licensing agreements are prohibitively expensive for these physicians.
"The federal government can also play an important and appropriate role by providing incentives to small- to medium-size medical offices to help them acquire EHRs.

"We will continue our efforts to work with Congress and the President to improve America's health care system. We look forward to President Bush's support for these critical issues."

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Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 134,600 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

To learn more about the AAFP and family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. Follow us on Twitter,(twitter.com) and like us on Facebook. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(familydoctor.org).