The origins of the ancient Chinese blessing/curse "May you be the president-elect of a physician organization in interesting times" have been disputed, but there's no denying Denver's Dr. Jeffrey Cain is ready for the task.
New physician group leader faces primary challenge
The new president-elect of the 100,300-member American Academy of Family Physicians, Cain says his organization is facing a societal "paradox." The country is becoming aware of how primary care "is in the forefront" of improving the healthcare system, but the field itself is struggling. So one of the main tasks on his agenda will be boosting the future workforce.
"It's proving itself," Cain says of primary care in general and family medicine in particular. He points to initiatives in North Carolina and Washington state that resulted in "better quality, reduced costs, healthier patients and happier doctors."
But lower compensation remains a problem for recruiting medical students, and fiscal constraints pit primary care against specialists as they compete for pieces of a shrinking pie.
"The ideal solution would be to find a larger pie, but our country can't continue to see increased healthcare costs," Cain says. He adds that he believes that better primary care—delivered by an adequately staffed and compensated primary-care workforce—will result in lower overall costs.
"Primary care is undervalued," Cain says, adding that compensation for primary care "should be about 70% of what specialists are making, and right now, it's considerably less."
According to the Council on Graduate Medical Education (PDF), primary-care docs make about 55% as much as specialists.
Like the American Medical Association, the AAFP has taken hits from its members for supporting healthcare reform. According to Cain, about 60% of members support the AAFP position, while 20% adamantly want the Patient Protection and Affordable Act repealed, and another 20% want the organization to push for a single-payer system.
"You know you're taking a leadership position when you're drawing arrows on both sides," Cain says.
Another similarity is that both the AMA and the AAFP have president-elects from the same area, with the AMA selecting Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, a Denver psychiatrist, for that role back in June. Cain denies that Colorado physicians are conspiring to take over organized medicine.
"We know each other socially through local medical-society events," Cain says. "I respect him and know him, but there's no secret society, no secret handshake."
Both Cain and Lazarus are also known athletes. Cain, who has had both legs amputated below the knee as a result of a 1996 airplane accident, swims, and bikes and won the first U.S. National Snowboarding Championship gold medal in the adoptive slalom.
Also, for the record, Dr. Patricia Numann, president-elect of the American College Surgeons, is from Syracuse, N.Y.; and Dr. David Bronson, president-elect of the American College of Physicians, is from Cleveland. But Dr. Gene Herbek, president-elect of the College of American Pathologists, is not far away in Omaha, and Dr. F. Brent Keeler, president-elect of the Colorado Medical Society, is from the Denver area, but that's to be expected.
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.
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