Guest Commentary: Family medicine must be a priority

Guest Commentary: Family medicine must be a priority

By DONALD R. LURYE

The legislation offered by the Congressional GOP leadership to repeal and replace significant parts of the Affordable Care Act continues the debate over how we, as a nation, can best provide affordable, high-quality health care to all Americans.

The nation's family physicians remain committed to advocating for: maintaining and expanding affordable health insurance coverage for all; the need for payment reform that supports and sustains family medicine and primary care as foundational to a better health care system; the importance of prevention and wellness, as well as special attention to the social determinants of health and health equity; and addressing the primary care workforce needs of our country and its funding.

As Congress debates over how Americans will obtain coverage and how our country will pay for it, I would like to spotlight another aspect receiving less attention: our nation's primary care physician workforce.

Once a student graduates medical school, he or she must complete additional years of training in a residency program to prepare for practice in the chosen specialty.

On Friday, March 17, graduating medical students received their matches to their residency programs. I hope many of the approximately 1,000 graduates from Illinois medical schools will match into family medicine.

We need more primary care physicians to provide the comprehensive care that everyone needs and deserves to stay healthy, get better, and reduce health care costs.

Family medicine residencies are essential to training the primary care workforce we need, while providing comprehensive care to communities and piloting innovations in patient-centered, cost-effective care that produces better health outcomes.

Graduating residents enter the workforce with the latest in clinical and population management advances, and often settle in or near the communities where they train.

According to the American Academy of Medical Colleges Workforce report, 62 percent of current Illinois physicians completed their residency training in Illinois. Nearly half of 2014 graduates remained in Illinois to practice.

Teaching Health Centers, including Northwestern-McGaw Family Medicine Residency in Chicago, were created through the Affordable Care Act. Now this proven source of community-based primary care providers is in jeopardy. Any overhaul to our federal health care system must preserve, expand and solidify the Teaching Health Center program.

According to the American Association of Teaching Health Centers, 76 percent of THC graduates practice in underserved areas.

All 27 Illinois family medicine residency programs operate with a similar philosophy of comprehensive, patient-centered primary care. They are located throughout the state and are essential to ensuring a physician workforce that meets our state's needs, both in numbers and in the expertise needed to care effectively and efficiently for all of Illinois. A new family medicine residency program in Geneva will welcome its first class of residents in 2018.

The new administration and Congress should work together to support and expand family medicine education to ensure a physician workforce that meets our nation's needs. We call on them to put family medicine and primary care as their priority in graduate medical education funding, while expanding and fully funding the Teaching Health Center model of residency training to other programs in Illinois and around the nation.

Donald R. Lurye, MD, MMM, CPE, FAAFP, is president of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.

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