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Another Voice: Collaboration is taking steps to grow primary care

By Fuad Sheriff

The alarming decline in the number of primary care physicians in the U.S. and New York State hit home recently with news that Lifetime Health Medical Group, an affiliate of Univera Healthcare, is closing its three Western New York health centers, due largely to physician recruitment problems.

The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of up to 43,100 primary care physicians by 2030. This critical physician shortage creates a serious risk to patient care beyond the 43,000 patients impacted by Lifetime Health’s decision, especially as the patient population continues to grow and age, requiring more and increasingly complicated care.

As primary care physicians, we cannot reduce this downward trend on our own. That’s why the physicians at Amherst Medical Associates and other area practices are partnering with Independent Health on three strategies to grow primary care.

First, we are part of the Primary Connection, a collaborative of more than 200 like-minded physicians from 33 practices seeking to improve the way care is delivered. We are reimbursed through an advanced value-based model that encourages team-based care, which enables us to spend the appropriate time with each patient, including more time for those with complex medical needs. This pioneering effort is resulting in improved outcomes for my patients, and improved physician satisfaction and professional fulfillment.

Second, we have teamed up with Evolve Practice Partners, a new affiliate company established by Independent Health, to help primary care physicians achieve excellence in care and patient outcomes in the new value-based health care environment. Evolve Practice Partners provides participating physicians with data that allows us to focus more on the clinical needs of our patients.

Third, we continue to collaborate with Independent Health and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine on recruitment efforts to encourage medical students to choose primary care as their specialty, offering opportunities for placement of generalist scholars in one of our practices, where students experience patient-centered care in a progressive primary care setting, mentored by a physician leader.

These efforts are helping our practice grow (a new primary care doctor recently joined our team) while also providing patients with the right care, at the right time and in the right setting. I am proud to serve on the Independent Health board of directors, along with five other area physicians, and am also one of more than 150 physicians serving in an advisory capacity with Independent Health.

Empowering primary care physicians to expand their influence and provide more patient-centered care is not only fulfilling to current practicing physicians, it also demonstrates to medical students that careers in primary care can be satisfying, gratifying and financially rewarding.

Fuad Sheriff, M.D., FACP, is a primary care physician with Amherst Medical Associates and a member of the Independent Health board of directors and the Primary Connection’s Leadership Council.

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