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Beyond Specialists: The Essential Role of Primary Care

The human body is a beautiful work of art, composed of a harmonious collaboration of 11 organ systems, along with additional supporting components, like the immune system. One is no more important than another, and all work in exquisite coordination to sustain us.

So it is intriguing that our healthcare system is organized around treating individual organs, rather than the human body as a whole.

It creates problems for patients and caregivers, who too often experience fragmented and siloed care, and it’s driven by the industry’s economics, which deliver higher status to medical specialists when compared to primary care physicians. Given that reality, it’s understandable that med students would be drawn to specialty medicine.

Our culture doesn’t value the jack-of-all-trades as much as it values experts. But I’d argue that the primary care physician is in fact an expert: they’re experts in care coordination and prioritization, and that should come with status that’s equal to all of the system-related specialists in medicine, and equal pay as well.

We’re making some progress with value-based care initiatives that prioritize care coordination led by primary care clinicians, but with too few of them in the workforce to begin with, and a dwindling supply in the pipeline, we need new approaches to solve this problem for patients.

Where to begin? I think it all starts with a clearer recognition of the role primary care clinicians play in a patient’s health, particularly older patients with more complicated health pictures. Sixty percent of older Americans have at least two chronic health conditions, and many millions of seniors suffer from several advanced chronic and age-related functional and cognitive challenges.

It is encouraging to see the spotlight on the value of primary care doctors who oversee and coordinate the many experts on an older patient’s care team. That, to me, is what the best internists, family practitioners, and geriatricians do – as they strive to maintain their patients’ well-being and keep them at home and thriving.

Of course, great primary care doctors do far more than simply coordinate and manage care. Because they have a 360-degree view of the patient’s health, they bring a holistic approach to treatment considerations, as well as deep problem-solving skills that come from years of work with multi-faceted care teams.

Far too often these and other skills have either been overlooked or undervalued by society. With the right business models, however, I believe we will reverse this dynamic.

Indeed, we believe part of our role as a new healthcare company is to elevate the importance of primary care physicians and geriatricians to the point where they’re on equal footing in our country, status-wise and in all other ways, with other medical specialists. We are spreading the word, one patient and family at a time, that care coordination by a great, geriatric-trained PCP, is the best way to treat patients sixty-five and older as a whole.

And we hope that by doing our humble part on our patient’s behalf, the nation as a whole will start to see the importance of these clinicians too, and will shift the industry’s economics to further entice the next generation of clinicians to fight this battle.

Our aging seniors deserve it, but so do the adult caregivers who must too often shoulder the burden of care coordination on behalf of primary care doctors who are too overworked and short-staffed to effectively take on that role.

We can all do better, and we at Welcome Health are proud to help lead the way.

Picture of Emily Cook | CEO

Emily Cook | CEO

Emily is responsible for setting the strategy, ensuring the success of the company in fulfilling its mission, values, and value proposition for customers and achieving its performance objectives. Emily’s expertise is in population health management and in scaling organizations, particularly those that deliver care in patients’ homes.

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