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More Primary Care Docs in a Community Equals Healthier Seniors
Date:5/24/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- The more primary care doctors a community has, especially ones who are actually practicing primary care, the healthier seniors in that community are, a new Dartmouth study suggests.

Those communities see fewer preventable hospitalizations and a slightly lower death rate among local elders, the researchers found.

"This reinforces something the American Academy of Family Physicians [AAFP] has stood on for a long time: that a well-trained physician can maintain outcomes," said AAFP president Dr. Roland Goertz, who noted that some 100 different studies have now come to the same or similar conclusions.

This study and others come in the context of a shrinking pool of primary care doctors. A study last month found that the percentage of medical students who want to go into primary-care medicine has dropped sharply over the past two decades, from 57 percent in 1990 to 33 percent two decades later.

In 1990, 57 percent wanted to go into primary-care medicine vs. 33 percent in 2007, according to that earlier study. Those choosing to practice general internal medicine in 2007 fell from 9 percent to 2 percent. And in 2008, only 264 U.S. medical students chose residency training in primary care internal medicine, compared to 575 in 1999.

Yet, having more primary care doctors is a cornerstone of most strategies to improve health-care quality and lower costs in the United States, the authors of the current study report. Their finding appears in the May 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

These authors looked at physician claims for about 5 million Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older culled from American Medical Association files. The claims including specialty coding for the physicians and the type of care provided, said study author Chiang-Hua Chang, a research instructor with the Center for Health P
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