New AAFP President Calls on Family Physicians to Champion Primary Care

October 23, 2014 03:15 pm Michael Laff Washington –

In his first official address as the Academy's new leader, AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., told attendees at the 2014 AAFP Assembly that family physicians will be the torchbearers for improvements in patient care and reforms in the delivery of care.

AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., tells family physicians they can take a leadership role to promote changes in care delivery and encourage more medical students to choose family medicine.

"During the past decade, there has been a growing recognition that things aren't working and we are beginning to shift the way health care is delivered in this country," Wergin said. "Family medicine has been a driving force in these changes. We have committed to the changes we need to make as a specialty, and we are at last seeing a renewed focus on primary care with patients at the center."

Family Medicine Will Be Key to System Reform

Wergin emphasized that family physicians can take a leadership role in promoting change that all sectors in medicine could follow, and he encouraged AAFP members to use all available resources, including technology, to improve the patient experience. Hand-in-hand with patients taking a more active role in their own care will be a need for family physicians to continually monitor and coordinate the entire spectrum of care those patients receive.

Wergin also addressed the ongoing issues family medicine will encounter in the near future, such as working in integrated care teams and supporting the growth of medical homes. To get to the ideal place where health care is meeting patient needs, he said, physicians need to move away from adversarial relationships with insurers and instead find ways to work in tandem with them.

Story highlight
  • Newly installed AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D. of Milford, Neb., gave his inaugural speech Oct. 22 at the 2014 AAFP Assembly.
  • Family physicians need to be at the forefront of patient care and facilitate patients' needs regardless of why they come in for a visit.
  • Wergin told attendees about treating a patient who came in for routine diabetes care but who turned out to have life-threatening health care needs.

"It's a place where financial incentives line up with good care and great outcomes," Wergin said. "Where doctors are working with payers -- not against them or in spite of them -- to give patients the best care possible. And where everyone sees that the investment in true primary care pays off."

The other side of this coin, he noted, is that as health care moves toward a system that encourages both shared responsibility and shared risk, public officials and insurers need to support policies that will improve health outcomes and not just increase volume or revenue.

"There are choices to be made by policymakers and payers about how to make the payment systems deliver on the triple aim," said Wergin. "How can they ensure that the return on investment of health care spending takes into account things like patient experience, population health and provider satisfaction?

"We have to build a system that works for everyone and is sustainable over the long haul."

With that thought in mind, Wergin gave attendees at the session a brief heads-up about the impending launch of a national advertising and media campaign -- dubbed Health is Primary( -- that will, among other goals, inform patients about key prevention and chronic disease issues with the goal of encouraging them to become more engaged in their own health care.

The communications campaign will coincide with a five-year strategic implementation effort that will form a partnership between family physicians and other key players in health care to transform the health care system. The two endeavors will be led by Family Medicine for America's Health, a new organization comprising the Academy and its seven sister organizations.

"If we do our job right, this communications campaign combined with a strategic effort will help shift the health care environment and provide you with the tools and skills to transform and improve your practice so that you can do what you came here to do and what you do best -- care for patients," Wergin said.

Patients Remain at the Heart of Family Medicine

Wergin then shared a story about one long-time patient he has cared for -- a man named Ron. Having known Ron for 20 years, Wergin knew his patient was not one who rushed to see a physician, but this time he was scheduled to receive diabetic shoes to help manage some callouses and peripheral neuropathy.

During the visit, Ron said he was eager to get in shape by starting a regular routine of walking, which Wergin found surprising since he had been encouraging Ron to exercise more for years. On further probing, he found his patient was experiencing shortness of breath and heartburn.

Wergin scheduled a stress test for the next day despite Ron's reservations. When the test revealed complications, Wergin arranged for a cardiology visit, during which the cardiologist found -- and subsequently stented -- a sizeable lesion.

"It started with a face-to-face visit for a diabetic shoe and ended with a life-saving stent to one of his coronary arteries," Wergin said.

"My wish for the future is that every patient in America will have access to this personal, comprehensive and coordinated kind of care -- the kind of care that family medicine was founded to provide."