By Monalisa Tailor, MD
Growing up, I knew I wanted a job helping others. This passion is what drove me to become a physician and helped me through years of medical school, residency and finally into my own practice. It’s the same passion that motivates me today to ensure my patients receive the very best care.
Of course, quality care is something that requires an entire team of health providers—and everyone involved serves an important role in meeting our patients’ needs. But it’s important that physicians are at the helm, leading the way.
Under a physician-led, team-based model of care, physicians and other health professionals work collaboratively, within their scope of experience and education, to ensure patients are treated safely and effectively. Most importantly, this model leads to the best health outcomes for our patients. An American Medical Association study found that physician-led care resulted in fewer emergency room visits, fewer hospital admissions and readmissions, shorter hospital stays and overall lower health care costs.
Furthermore, studies show 95 percent of patients want a physician involved in their diagnosis and treatment. With eight years of formal education, a minimum three-year residency and at least 12,000 hours of clinical training, physicians are the most highly trained health providers—and we are trained to lead a care team.
Physician-led, team-based care can also help address one of Kentucky’s most pressing health care problems: access to care. The Health Resources and Services Administration anticipates Kentucky will face a shortage of 960 primary care physicians by 2025—the third greatest shortage nationwide.
As a first step, we must invest in programs that keep and bring more physicians to Kentucky, such as graduate medical education (GME) funding and loan repayment programs. Kentucky should also consider other evidence-based reforms to resolve our health care workforce shortage—things like expanding telehealth and creating new initiatives and programs that encourage students from underserved areas to pursue medical school.
The Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) has led the way in bringing these reforms to our state. Last year, we helped pass House Bill 573, which established a state-based loan forgiveness program for physicians and other providers willing to locate to underserved areas, and we will continue to look for solutions to recruit and retain more physicians.
Despite what some may claim, resolving complex issues like health care access, quality and cost is not as simple as expanding non-physicians’ scope of practice and allowing for independent practice, as was indicated in a recent Courier Journal story on nurse practitioners. We know this because it has been tried and has failed.
Over the last two decades, various scope of practice initiatives have been enacted in an attempt to fill gaps within the state’s health care workforce. Despite these efforts, 94 percent of Kentucky counties still faced a primary care shortage in 2021. Since non-physician providers tend to locate in the same general areas as physicians, even in states with relaxed scope of practice laws, these reforms do little to address the problem.
Not to mention that physician involvement, even when care is provided by non-physician providers, is linked to higher quality care—which is what all providers should want for their patients. That’s why a majority of states, including those neighboring Kentucky, have at least some provisions regulating the level and scope of care provided by non-physicians.
Access, quality and cost—all of which are inextricably linked to physician-led, team-based care—are the foundation of the Kentucky Medical Association’s new Kentucky Physicians Care campaign. This effort will educate Kentuckians on the role physicians play within the care team and the collaboration among providers that leads to the best patient outcomes. We will also continue to advocate for policy solutions that will ensure this model’s longevity, even as the health care system evolves.
As a physician, I care deeply about the health and wellbeing of not only my patients, but all Kentuckians. They are not just numbers and charts. I know that I need a strong team working alongside me to provide the best care. I feel a tremendous responsibility to serve my patients in the safest and most effective way possible because I know the positive impacts of quality, accessible care can be felt throughout entire communities. Delivering that type of care means sticking with—and expanding—what really works: the physician-led, team-based model that puts patients’ best interests and care needs first.
Monalisa Tailor, MD, is a practicing physician and president of the Kentucky Medical Association.
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