Innovations in Primary Care: A Potential Cure for Shortages

By Stacie Harbuck

As health care wavers on the verge of great change, ideas about health care innovations continue to permeate discussions, meetings, and conferences. At a recent Aspen Health Stewardship Project event, SHOUTAmerica’s Dr. Brent Parton said, “Innovative models are making primary care attractive again” for young physicians.

Could innovation be a key to turning around the declining numbers of physicians going into primary care? Barriers for buying into newer care concepts are starting to crumble for younger physicians as innovative care models, such as the Patient-Centered Medical Home and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), are now becoming incentivized by payers. With financial incentives and reimbursements, younger physicians can benefit from the teamwork, patient engagement, and work–life balance of primary care.

Technology is also pervasive as an attractor of younger physicians as it becomes a part of health care culture. Having worked at an academic health center with medical students and residents on various projects, I have learned that technology is expected by these new physicians. They grew up always having computers and cell phones, so they believe that all practices will have the same technological capabilities that they are accustomed to having.

Electronic medical records, patient-centered appointment programs and applications, as well as online physician reviews in the style of Yelp appeal to young physicians and empower patients for improved decision making. IBM’s Watson can help process greater amounts of information to help physicians with diagnosis and treatment options.

As we have seen in health care, innovation is a step-by-step process that cannot be put into place overnight. In his keynote at the Aspen meeting, Dr. Sam Nussbaum used metaphor to suggest that the “luggage” of medicine has evolved over time to now include wheels — new processes procedures, and innovations — to aid it in our mission to improve patient care. As these innovations move to the forefront within primary care, we will hopefully see the shift that Dr. Parton mentioned, and younger physicians will choose primary care as their specialty. Who knows? Maybe we will see the change even in this year’s upcoming match results.

—Stacie Harbuck is a research analyst within the Center for Workforce Studies at the AAMC. Her work with the AAMC has been primarily focused on innovative primary care practices, team-based care, hospitalists, and medical student clinical training. She can be reached at

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