Local News

Complex cure for health care system needs

SEBRING - Not only are the baby boomers getting older, so are their doctors and nurses. As Florida grows from 19 million today to a predicted 23 million by 2030, the prescription gets more complex for health care system problems. "The concern is access to quality care," said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. "You have to look at what's impacting that. One is more medical students focus on specialities." "Our younger physicians are increasingly moving away from primary care," Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican who is an emergency room physician at Florida Hospital Heartland, said about data presented Wednesday to the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation.
As baby boomers live longer, the demand for primary care increases, said Galvano, who chaired two health committees when he served in the House. Now a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, he represents southern Highlands County. Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, created the House committee in July. His office said the panel "will study and pursue solutions for ensuring access to the right care in the right setting, including methods for increasing the number of practitioners educated in Florida, allowing practitioners to practice to the full extent of their education and training, and attracting a world-class health care workforce to Florida." "I think the focus should be on keeping medical students in Florida," said Galvano, who suggested Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton has done just that. On Wednesday, the House committee began studying the complex set of issues to make sure the state has enough doctors and other health care workers. It's too early to know what the committee will recommend, but ideas range from taking steps to train and keep more doctors in Florida to using new telemedicine technology. "We have to make sure we are on the cutting edge technologically, and telemedicine is a leader on that," Galvano said. In a Senate health care committee, he saw a video of a doctor watching a patient's examination, including ear and stethoscope monitors. However, he asked, will doctors, nurses and physician assistants be overtaxed? "That's something we need to be aware of. Are they seeing too many patients, and lessening the quality of care?" State economist Amy Baker presented information to the House committee that pointed to problems as the state moves toward 2030, when the first baby boomers will hit their mid-80s. Nearly a quarter of state residents are expected to be 65 or older then; a third of Highlands residents are already in that age category. "We're at the very front end of this demographic shift," Baker said. The baby boom generally includes people born from 1946 to 1964. Another problem: boomers will be relatively healthy and have financial assets when they first retire, but they will need more health care services and their bank accounts will shrink as 2030 gets closer. Also, information presented to the committee showed primary care doctors and nurses are aging. At the same time, many younger physicians are choosing specialties instead of primary care. The Florida Medical Association, a politically powerful physicians group, has circulated a list of proposals to address the shortage of primary care doctors and nurses. One: increase medical residency program funding so that more primary care doctors could finish their training in the state, with the hope they would then practice in Florida. FMA would expand telemedicine, with doctors using new technology to care for patients online. A major shift into telemedicine, however, must address sticky issues like ensuring patient privacy and determining whether insurance companies would pay for telemedicine on the same scale as face-to-face treatment. Finally, as more Floridians sign up for the federal Affordable Care Act, will more patients who are currently uninsured go to doctors and hospitals more often? "There are myriad of factors," Galvano said. "Florida continues to be a destination state... The way the population is growing, we are going to be having to keep with demand." The News Service of Florida contributed to this report gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828