Back around 2004, there was a small stir within the National Institutes for Health and a few other government agencies to encourage more research aimed at improving and expanding family medicine. The thinking back then was that the discipline was finally maturing to the point where it might be helpful to start looking at medical issues and paradigms from a family perspective rather than based on the traditional model of individual patients.
So what has occurred on the family medicine research front in the 10+ years since? Not much. While family medicine jobs abound at clinics and hospitals from New York to California, family medicine continues on largely as it always has. It is enough to cause some to wonder if family medicine is becoming a ‘lost art’ of sorts.
To be clear, no one is suggesting that family medicine jobs or the practice of family medicine itself is disappearing. Rather, family medicine is just not distinguishing itself from other specialties in the way that a lot of people were hoping it would back in the late 1990s. The good news is that the door is wide open to anyone who really wants to turn family medicine upside down.
The Concierge Model
A few enterprising doctors have, in recent years, looked to change the direction of family medicine by bringing the concierge model to their local areas. As you probably know, concierge medicine is all about charging a flat, annual fee that gives patients unlimited access to office visits and standard inpatient procedures. It is a cash-and-carry arrangement that completely bypasses health insurance and its cumbersome requirements.
The concierge model seems like a perfect fit for family medicine practitioners looking to move beyond the confines of the current norm. The question is whether the market is strong enough in a day and age in which Washington is attempting to force a new healthcare delivery model on an already dysfunctional system.
Family Medicine and Technology
Technology is another avenue of hope for family medicine in the modern era. It is easy to imagine specialized services that could be offered to families – like tele-medicine for minor illnesses, on-demand well child checkups, and even house calls that would be scheduled around families rather than the nine-to-five mentality.
We have already seen numerous instances where technology has come in and disrupted an industry to the point of totally transforming it. Is there any reason it couldn’t do the same for family medicine? Probably not.
A Will and a Way
Let us assume that family medicine is indeed becoming a lost art. How do we change things in light of the current circumstances? How do we make family medicine jobs the exciting and rewarding jobs they ought to be? It boils down to a will and a way.
The suggestions of concierge medicine and technology are but two ideas in a vast sea of possibilities. As with most things in our healthcare system, the issue is not one of a lack of ideas; it is a lack of will. Too many in policy making positions just do not want to upset the status quo. Still, the old adage holds true: where there is a will, there is a way.
Perhaps the new crop of family medicine doctors who will take the reigns over the next five or six years – be they private practice owners, employees, or locum tenens doctors – will decide they are going to be the ones to make family medicine the art it should be. Let’s hope so. American families could certainly use a better family medicine system.