May 19 is recognized around the world as World Family Doctor Day. The celebration was started in 2010 by the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA), an international non-profit organization whose member organizations include the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). In honor of World Family Doctor Day, we thought it would be fitting to highlight some facts about the family medicine physicians practicing in the United States.
They are a major part of the future of healthcare
Family medicine providers serve as gatekeepers for the healthcare system. They are many patients’ first contact when they have a medical issue, and if the condition is outside their expertise, they refer patients to a specialist. From there, they work as facilitators and advocates, staying in contact with specialists and managing their patients’ overall health. One of the main goals of the Affordable Care Act is to extend health insurance coverage to more Americans so they can establish relationships with family medicine providers, thus improving disease management, preventive care, and contain costs.
They are in short supply
By 2022, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the ACA will have extended coverage to 33 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured. Unfortunately, many newly insured Americans are having a difficult time getting a primary care physician. That’s because there are not enough primary care physicians to meet patient demand, and the problem is only getting worse. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortage of 124,000 full-time equivalent physicians by 2025 with primary care accounting for the largest share (37% or 46,000 full-time equivalents).
Student interest in family medicine is growing
In 2014, 3,000 medical students chose a family medicine residency position. That figure represents a 2% increase when compared to 2013. This is good news. According to AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D., the country needs to produce an additional 65 family medicine residents annually through 2025 to meet the country’s demand for family medicine. Blackaelder attributes the increased interest in family medicine to the massive amount of news coverage on the value of family medicine as it relates to the ACA. However, he says the best way encourage interest in family medicine is to increase payment for primary care. He notes that provisions in the ACA, including a 10% incentive payment for primary care services, are a good start.
They are in the process of redefining themselves
With so much interest in family medicine and primary care, the AAFP is working on defining what family physicians really are. The new definition is part of group’s Family Medicine for America’s Health: Future of Family Medicine 2.0 (FFM 2.0) project. The purpose of the project is to examine the challenges and opportunities facing family medicine today, and define a path forward in the context of a rapidly changing health care landscape. The AAFP plans to publish a report on FFM 2.0 this fall in the Annals of Family Medicine.