AAFP’s new president wants a “health system centered on primary care”
October 27, 2021
4 minutes to read
New President of the American Academy of Family Physicians Sterling Ransone, Jr., MD, AAFP, aims to make primary care physicians more accessible and to pay them “what they are worth”.
Ransone, who is a third-generation family physician, told Healio Primary Care in an interview that his professional and personal experiences in rural Virginia make him qualified to oversee these efforts.
âI understand the plight of small firms and the difficulty they have in keeping their doors open or staying in business during the pandemic. I understand a lot of what they have to go through in order for their practice to remain viable, âhe said. âRural doctors do everything. The scope of family medicine is so vast that we sometimes follow our patients from cradle to grave.
In the interview, Ransone outlined his change strategy and discussed some of the highlights of his career.
Healio primary care: What are your priorities for the AAFP?
Ransone: There are a lot of things that are of interest to AAFP, but I would like to summarize in three things.
First, I would like to focus on establishing an outpatient health care system focused on a primary care centered health system where there is a family doctor [available] for every person in every community. Our current health care system is designed in such a way that primary care physicians, especially family physicians, have been demotivated – we are not paid what we are worth for the health care community. If we can change the focus of our health care system towards one that focuses on primary care, we can save lives and have healthier populations. The version I propose is based on the theme of team care; however, our version recognizes that physician assistants and nurse practitioners are trained differently from family physicians and primary care physicians. The version I am proposing will also allow us to be paid at our value, instead of the outdated fee-for-service system.
The second thing we really need to work on over the next few years is teaching our members to understand, adapt and take advantage of technology and electronic innovation. We would like to do this to really reduce the administrative burden so that we can devote our time and focus on patient care. As primary care physicians, we still spend the majority of our time working on computers and not the face-to-face time with our patients for which we have been trained and from whom we derive most of our joy. The use of telemedicine services is only one part.
The third thing is to put in place a compensation structure that pays family physicians and primary care physicians what they are worth. We are saving a lot of money for the health care system. And we know that when a primary care doctor comes to a community, lives are saved. Unfortunately, our system is not configured to refund this benefit to us. If we can get better payment for our services and if we are known for what we do, we will get more people interested in family medicine and save money. [more] Lives.
Healio Primary Care: How AAFP Helps Doctors impacted by the pandemic?
Ransone: The AAFP has done four main things to help our members cope with the pandemic.
The first is education. We have tried to ensure that our website has the most recent and accurate information so that we can be a source of reference. We have had several town halls over the past year and a half and we will continue to do so. We are also in the process of modifying some of our CME requirements to help our members more easily obtain their CME credits.
# 2 is payment. We actively advocate for reimbursement of telemedicine services. There’s also code G-2211, which is a primary care supplemental code that we can start billing in 2023, which is expected to help increase reimbursement for all family physicians and primary care physicians.
The third is security. At the onset of the pandemic, many of us – especially those of us in smaller practices – struggled to procure personal protective equipment for our practices. The AAFP has partnered with some distributors to receive good quality PPE at reduced prices. Over the next few years, the academy will advocate ensuring that national stocks of PPE are up to date and in rotation, so that in the event of a new pandemic, we have adequate safety equipment for all our members.
The last way the AAFP has helped is to look after the health of its members. It has been an incredibly stressful year and a half for all physicians – especially primary care physicians and family physicians – as we battled depression, fatigue and burnout. I would like to say that you are not alone. Together we can move mountains, and together we can help get through this pandemic, help our patients and save lives.
Healio Primary Care: What Should Family Physicians and PCP tell their patients about COVID-19?
Ransone: When I gave my speech when I was installed as President, it was largely about family doctors and the fight against disinformation. Four years ago, when I first ran for the AAFP Board of Directors, there was a lot of misconception about the measles, mumps, and autism-causing rubella vaccine. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the amount of misinformation.
We need to be up front and tell the truth about vaccines to our patients. We need to be prepared to spend time asking them questions about potential misunderstandings – from vaccines and masking to social distancing and air filtration, whatever it is. Often times, if a doctor simply asks, patients will tell us what their concerns are, and we can fight some of the misinformation they may have gleaned from the internet or social media.
Several studies have asked patients they trust the most to give good medical advice. A patient’s family physician was at the top of the list in each study. Therefore, I encourage everyone to use their chairs to speak to their patients about the truth and fight medical misinformation so that we can save lives.
Healio Primary Care: In addition to becoming president of AAFP, what are the other highlights of your career?
Ransone: About ten years ago, when we were discussing the Affordable Care Act, I was on the AAFP Commission on Government Advocacy. Being able to contribute to AAFP politics was wonderful and I really appreciated it. I was also able to testify before Congress as a member of this commission, and it was wonderful.
Another highlight was when, during my tenure as president of my state medical corporation, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Indoor Clean Air Act. To do this in a state of tobacco was incredibly difficult. I was also vice chairman of a group that preserved the medical malpractice cap in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Other highlights were the little things, including when a patient hugs you or thanks you for what you’ve done. These are the things that make the practice rewarding.