By Reneé Buckingham, segment president of Humana’s Primary Care Organization, including CenterWell Senior Primary Care and Conviva Care Solutions
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to showcase the heroics of our nation’s healthcare workers, particularly those who treat seniors, but it has also laid bare physicians’ subsequent burnout. Unfortunately, even prior to the pandemic, doctors were headed down a path of exhaustion, with nearly half of physicians indicating that they were burned out.
While addressing doctors’ fatigue today is a pressing issue, we also need to prepare for tomorrow. Specifically, the nation is facing both an aging population and an aging physician workforce, equating to a health care system that is on track to be 48,000 primary care physicians short by 2034.
The good news is that interest in attending medical school is at an all-time high, with applications for a spot to begin school in 2021 up 18% compared to 2020. Even more encouraging, there have been upticks in the number of diverse applicants to medical school, though there is more work to be done here.
To recruit physicians, especially those in senior-focused primary care, we need to create a more supportive working environment now, while preparing for those entering the physician workforce over the next few years.
1. Recognize that primary care physicians cannot be masters of everything.
The need to identify and address social determinants of health is a critical part of “whole person care.” For a variety of factors, however, only 16% of physician practices screen for food insecurity, housing instability, utility needs, and transportation needs, which results in both a frustrated physician and an under-evaluated patient. Set up primary care doctors for success by surrounding them with in-house expertise – social workers, pharmacists and behavioral therapists – who will manage complementary aspects of patients’ health. In light of the tremendous range of issues that need to be addressed among patients – particularly those living in underserved areas – it can be very attractive to physicians to join a network with these built-in resources.
“To recruit physicians, especially those in senior-focused primary care, we need to create a more supportive working environment now, while preparing for those entering the physician workforce over the next few years.”
2. Return to basics of care, not basics of administration.
No physician says, “I went to medical school to do data entry.” Nevertheless, paperwork is an enormous burden, with physicians spending 16 minutes on electronic health records (EHRs) for each patient visit, and primary care physicians spending 18 to 22 minutes on EHRs for each patient visit. Creating infrastructure where doctors are relieved of the majority of back-end administrative duties is a tremendous benefit in attracting physicians, especially when that time saved is converted into increased time with patients. In the case of CenterWell and Conviva, we have increased the average time of 15 minutes per patient to 40 minutes per patient, due in large part to alleviating the administrative load on the doctors.
3. Know your values and recruit physicians who identify with them.
Similar to dating, in recruiting many of the most successful matches result from a foundation of shared philosophies and outlooks. In the case of medicine, if your network is committed to value-based care, you need to look for physicians who share a belief in that approach or, at a minimum, are open to new payment models that not only are highly competitive, but also incentivize for select outcomes. Other areas to align on might be acceptance to working as part of a team versus practicing as a solo practitioner; commitment to working in underserved areas; and interest in focusing full-time on seniors.
We have also found success in attracting physicians back to the communities where they grew up or went to school. It is deeply meaningful to a patient to be treated by a physician who understands their environment and shares a common bond. And, for physicians, it’s equally meaningful to give back to the communities that served them, especially underserved communities.
It’s both an art and a science to recruit physicians, particularly in such a competitive market. But the effort necessary to find the right fit for both the doctor and your organization is key to fulfilled doctors and, ultimately, to the best care for patients.