Health is Primary

October Campaign Is All About Championing Primary Care

October 12, 2016 03:25 pm Chris Crawford

The first week of October ushered in National Primary Care Week,( an annual event sponsored by the American Medical Student Association to encourage primary care professionals to spread the word about why primary care is integral in keeping patients, their friends and families healthy.

[Doctor speaking into megaphone with speech bubble]

The Health is Primary( campaign from Family Medicine for America's Health has been promoting primary care's value to the country since 2015 and continues to do so. For October, instead of focusing on a specific area of patient care as it has done in previous months, the campaign has cranked up the volume of its overall primary care message.

Health is Primary's October toolkit for family physicians features patient information materials on comprehensive, coordinated and continuous care. The campaign is focusing this month on emphasizing prevention and health promotion, ensuring a strong primary care workforce, improving health equity, partnering with public health, and putting patients at the center of care(

Also included in the toolkit are fact sheets, sample tweets, ads and posters that family physicians can use to amplify the message of championing primary care.

Story highlights
  • Health is Primary's October toolkit for family physicians offers patient information materials on comprehensive, coordinated and continuous care.
  • Also included in the toolkit are fact sheets, sample tweets, ads and posters family physicians can use to amplify the message of championing primary care.
  • One family physician and primary care champion describes how she works to keep primary care front and center among patients, employers, insurers and policymakers.

FP Describes Efforts to Champion Primary Care

AAFP News recently spoke with family physician and primary care champion Manisha Sharma, M.D., about the importance of keeping that message front and center among patients, employers, insurers and policymakers. Sharma was recently named( director of community health and primary care for CareMore Health System in Shelby County, Tenn. CareMore, which is based in Cerritos, Calif., has been around for more than 20 years and provides care for enrollees in Medicare Advantage and Medicaid health plans in Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

In Sharma's new role at CareMore, she will develop and lead an outpatient interdisciplinary team approach to primary care and will work to create local relationships to help integrate CareMore within the community. Before joining CareMore, Sharma worked as a clinical innovator for Boston-based Iora Health. Prior to that, she was the medical director and acting chief medical officer for Evergreen Health Care in Baltimore.

Sharma has strongly advocated for primary care during her regular speaking engagements and lectures at universities across the United States, tackling topics such as health equity, coalition building, grassroots health initiatives, social impacts on health, physician advocacy and social justice.

Primary Care Is Good For Business

During the annual conference of the National Alliance for Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (formerly the National Business Coalition on Health) in late September, Sharma spoke to an audience composed of employers in both the private and public sectors, health insurance company representatives, and pharmaceutical and technology firm representatives about community health reform, including improving the value of health care provided through employer-sponsored plans.

"Medicine isn't static," she told AAFP News. "Our communities change over time, so we need to be fluid in primary care to meet patients' health care needs."

One example of this, Sharma said, is the move away from a disease-centric model of care to a people-centric model.

On being asked during her recent presentation to explain why employers should invest in primary care, Sharma said she acknowledged that hospital care is acute care intended to solve the emergency at hand, but noted that these patients are then sent right back out into the community without having the broader health issues that led to their illness addressed. This oversight can lead to higher costs for employers and their health insurance plans.

"Employers have a lot of leverage in designing health insurance plans that are more primary care-focused," Sharma said. "People should be encouraged to go see their primary care doctor and team, social worker, or case manager instead of heading straight for the hospital.

"If your employees are healthier and happier, there also will be less absenteeism due to health and they will be more productive. So it behooves employers to invest in primary care."

Help Build the Future of Primary Care

Courting and convincing medical students to join the primary care movement is critical to its future -- and to that of family medicine, specifically -- said Sharma, who regularly interacts with medical students through her speaking engagements.

"To me, family medicine is the natural pathway to be a patient advocate," she said. "When medical students come to me saying they really want to help their communities, I tell them family medicine is the easiest way to do so, because you're treating everyone and helping everyone connected to that person."

Sharma said she has just one question for medical students who are undecided about their specialty. "What's your utopia?" she asks them.

"If your utopia includes wanting to help your community, change the system and be a part of taking care of everyone, then family medicine is the best way to be a social justice doctor."

Sharma bolstered the argument that medical schools need to better present family medicine as a worthy specialty choice. She said she does this herself during visits to medical schools and at national events that medical students attend. And it pays off.

"I'll get a phone call from someone who heard me speak at their medical school saying, 'Dr. Sharma, I'm choosing family medicine.' It makes me feel good that I'm reaching one person at a time," she said.

Primary Care Can Change the System

Sharma points to the recent lead contamination water crisis in Flint, Mich., as an example of how primary care physicians can make a difference by, for example, speaking up about a problem.

"We should champion primary care in thinking about health in all policy, as we are the experts and we see the health outcomes of bad policies, bad housing, incarcerations and even gerrymandering with voting," she said. "This is the type of work that can create primary care 2.0 or 3.0."

Sharma's advice for family physicians looking to champion primary care in their daily lives: "Don't be afraid to disrupt the status quo. I think this includes the move away from fee-for-service and not focusing on the volume of patients we see."

Because there's power in numbers, family physicians should collectively advocate for a fair wage, she added, not only for treating their patients, but also for the increased administrative burden FPs have encountered in recent years.

"You can't leave this to industry folks or the leadership of the hospital," she said. "It takes the people who actually do the work to speak up, and together, we can create a movement."

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