Needed: Family physicians

Needed: Family physicians

It only makes sense that the Unit- ed States is on the verge of facing a shortage of primary care doctors as the various phases of the Affordable Care Act kick in.

One purpose of the act is to provide health coverage for the currently uninsured, and one of the ways in which health insurance companies attempt to keep their costs down is through preventative medicine. And preventative medicine primarily falls on the family physician.

Insurance companies already are attempting to shift some of that burden to wellness programs that involve nurses, telephone consultations and online services.

But when preventative strategies aren’t enough and sickness strikes, the doctor’s office is the place for patents to go —not to the more expensive emergency room.

Megan Smith, director of communications for the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, says Ohio is expected to have a shortage of 5,031 of those doctors by 2020. That means there would have to be 5,000 more future family physicians in the pipeline now.

Those are discouraging numbers, but the state can’t ignore unpleasant facts, hoping they’ll go away.

A generation ago, Ohio legislators attempted to address the looming doctor shortage with the creation of new medical schools, one of them being the then-Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, a consortium of Kent State University, the University of Akron and Youngstown State University, and another being an osteopathic medicine school at Ohio University.

State Sen. Harry Meshel of Youngstown, who pushed to expand medical education in the state at the time, said both schools were designed to produce family physicians. In the case of NEOUCOM, a six-year curriculum cut both the time and cost of producing physicians. Had its success at doing that become the model for other universities in the state, that 5,000-physician gap may not have been filled, but it would be smaller.

Ohio should be working on strategies to produce family physicians by offering tuition assistance or debt relief that make family practice more economically attractive.

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