Basic Health-Care Issues Face Medical Industry

Article excerpt

Feature Editor The critical issues of medicine are to develop a better system of health-care delivery to rural areas and training more family practitioners. The solutions are not so clear. Those are the conclusions of Dr. Kenneth Whittington, Bethany, after having traveled throughout the United States while serving as president of the 73,000- member American Academy of Family Physicians. Whittington concluded his term as president of the national academy late last year but still serves an active role in an ex-officio position. Whittington operates a family practice at 7330 NW 23rd St., where he is now caring for grandchildren of his first family of patients. He has practiced at that location since completing his internship in 1969 and even had the same office nurse, Betty Hafner, throughout those years. "I've been to Rhode Island, and Rhode Island doesn't have any rural health-care problems, because it doesn't have any rural areas. Everyone there is within about 12 to 15 miles of a hospital, but that is the only place I haven't seen a problem," Whittington said. The gap appears to be widening between high technology in the medical field and the ability of the system to provide simple, basic medical care in the rural areas, he said. High costs of obtaining a medical education may be a major factor that encourages young doctors to enter specialty fields rather than becoming family physicians, he said. Quicker returns on their education investment can be realized from higher fees they can command in specialized areas of medicine. This helps them more quickly alleviate the problems of high debt many incur getting their education, he said. Medical schools are encouraging too many young doctors to enter specialty fields. They must encourage more to become family physicians in order to meet the basic medical needs of the rural areas, he said. He cited the general aging of the population as a factor contributing to the health- care crisis in the rural areas because the elderly generally require more health services. The complications of health insurance, Medicare and health maintenance organizations also contribute to the problems, he said. "HMOs (health maintenance organizations) actually limit more of the access to medical services by limiting the doctors or services people can use," Whittington said. …


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