My grandfather was a physician in general practice at the beginning of the last century, before the Flexner Report revolutionized medical training and brought medical education into the scientific age. His office was in the bottom of the family home. My grandmother would open the door, folks would come in, and the agenda was whatever was on the mind of the person who came. There was no phone interuption (there were no phones!), record keeping was easy (20 years on one 3 by 5 card), and most modern therapies had not yet been invented.
Today, many physicians in primary care continue to practice in the same basic style as my grandfather. They wait in their office to see what comes, and are only paid for this visit "piece work". It is as if the telephone was never invented, much less the Internet! They do not manage their patient panel in such a way as to improve their overall care, because they do not have the tools to know how the group is doing, and indeed, they may not even have thought about it.
Recently, Dr. Kevin Grumbach, professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, has renewed the call for a thorough "Revitalization of Primary Care". He correctly notes that the traditional model of primary care has not been very well supported by payers, purchasers or government agencies, and that people are turning away from it. In a recent article, he is quoted as saying, "This model of 19th-century practice -- of the doctor in the office and patients coming in -- is not going to work in the 21st century. We have come to the proverbial fork in the road." He identifies physician payment reform as one of the first steps we must take in revitalizing primary care, to provide the personal medical home. This is the work that we have been engaged in at Family Care Network.
Dr. Grumbach notes that the worsening shortage of primary care physicians is fueling "medical homelessness," which leaves patients without adequate access to primary care services and patient-centered medical homes. This is particularly tragic, since the ratio of primary care doctors to the population is the only statistic that has ever been shown to correlate with both improved health care quality and decreased cost of care. We must change now. The need has never been greater.