Is Primary Care the Solution to all Our Ills?
Now here’s an irony (or is it an embarrassment?) – a larger number of Rwandans have health insurance than Americans. This poor African nation with a population that is just more than New York City insures more than 80 percent of its citizens for the measly sum of $2. The medical facilities they’re entitled to are not much, but at least they have some form of care when they fall ill or are affected by disease as opposed to the majority of Americans who live in dread of the day they need medical care. They have no insurance, and because of this, they know that they cannot afford to see a doctor or visit a hospital.
The cost of medical care continues to skyrocket, and even though the reforms ushered in by the Obama government promise much, the sad fact is that nothing has changed today. Why is healthcare so costly in a nation that is one of the wealthiest in the world? The answer lies not just in the prohibitive costs of branded drugs, but also in the fact that we as a nation grossly underestimate the value and potential of primary care physicians and internists, the doctors who provide basic healthcare and look after preventive aspects of medicine.
Personal health starts with your primary care provider – he or she is the right person to:
- Help prevent diseases by advocating a healthier lifestyle with the right diet, exercise, and avoidance of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and stress.
- Control and treat minor conditions and prevent them from becoming full blown diseases that lead to long and expensive hospital stays.
- Identify the beginnings of potentially dangerous conditions like cancer, stroke and heart disease and setting up appointments with the right specialists.
- Teach basic hygiene measures that prevent disease in the home.
- Guide pregnant and nursing mothers as to how best to care for themselves and their babies and prevent complications at birth and after.
In spite of all these advantages that primary care physicians offer, not many people prefer to see them. This is mostly because they are too busy and their offices always overcrowded. Setting up an appointment is a chore and seeing your primary care doctor immediately is a miracle. Also, most doctors spend very little time with their patients and turn them over to nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Looking at it from their point of view, they get paid less for each patient than doctors in other specialties, and to maximize their earnings, they crowd in as many patients as they can into their workday. And with primary care doctors earning much less than doctors in other fields, not many medical school graduates want to enter this line of work.
So when we take into account the shortage of primary care physicians, add to it the fact that they’re not really well paid by the system, and throw in the high cost of medical care in this country (mainly because of long and unnecessary hospital stays and visits to specialists that could have been avoided), we can see how important primary care is to the general welfare and wellbeing of our country. And unless more med school graduates are enticed into primary care with higher pay incentives, there’s no way to stop medical costs from spiraling out of control.