Bob Phillips, MD, MSPH
Executive Director of the Center for Professionalism & Value in Health Care, American Board of Family Medicine
Why are you passionate about primary care?
I fell in love with primary care in medical school because I recognized the power of relationships in health. Figuring out what is at the heart of people’s health concerns takes time and trust, and changing unhealthy behaviors can take even longer, but primary care can accomplish both when done well. I want the next generation of primary care clinicians to understand the power of what they can accomplish if they resist making health care transactional—and how taking ownership of relationships changes us too. We also need to help policymakers—both in the government and our health system—understand the value of relationships too and not just how primary care can reduce costs but how we can improve outcomes.
The field of primary care continues to face mounting challenges, but there is some room for optimism, according to several experts.
In 2019, there were about 229,000 primary care physicians in the U.S., “the largest primary care physician workforce we’ve ever seen and the largest primary care physician workforce per-capita we’ve ever seen,” said Andrew Bazemore, MD, senior vice president for research and policy at the American Board of Family Practice, at an event on the state of primary care sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians; Bazemore cited American Medical Association (AMA) data. However, he added, primary care physicians still make up only about 30% to 31% of the country’s total physicians.
Spurred by a novel coronavirus pandemic, 2020 will undoubtedly stand out in the annals of history for radically upending the norms of US politics, economy, culture, and race relations and reminding us of the fragility of life as we know it. The US health care system, which has long struggled with fragmentation and poor return on unmatched per-capita spending, further revealed its shortcomings, among them continuing inattention to primary health care, which the world has long declared should be the “central function and main focus [of a] country’s health system.”1 The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged communities has shone another bright spotlight on the long-standing health and wealth inequities in our nation and the urgent need to address them.