KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

More Minorities Attending American Medical Schools

News outlets report on issues affecting the doctor workforce, including increased diversity at medical schools and questions about whether rural doctors will qualify for the Medicare payment bonus for primary care physicians.

"More and more minority students are entering the nation's medical schools, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported Wednesday," writes The Hill's Healthwatch blog. "The increase was most pronounced among Hispanics, who saw first-year enrollment jump to 1,539 in 2010 - 9 percent above 2009 levels, AAMC found. For black students, the increase was 2.9 percent (to 1,350), while Asians saw enrollment rise 2.4 percent, to 4,214. The number of first-year white students, meanwhile, was 12,094 in 2010 - up 0.4 percent from 2009, the group said" (Lillis, 10/13).

Meanwhile, "[a] provision in the health care law intended to boost primary care providers might not help some of the physicians who need it the most - those serving patients in the nation's ... rural regions," CQ HealthBeat reports. The bonus is given to doctors whose practices are at least 60 percent primary care, "[b]ut Clint MacKinney, an emergency department physician in Minnesota who also works with the Rural Policy Research Institute Health Panel, said the problem is that most rural doctors perform a variety of services, unlike a primary care doctor in a suburban or urban office. Some practices may do everything from conducting heart stress tests to removing warts to sewing up lacerations, he said. If the physicians provide those additional services, they won't meet the 60 percent standard, he said, because the primary care services are strictly defined under the law. Preventive health care also is not included in the 60 percent standard, MacKinney said" (Norman, 10/13).

The Boston Globe reports on a "medical matchmaking" program in Massachusetts that connects doctors with younger patients, who are often underserved. "Put on by Hallmark Health at Orleans Restaurant in Somerville last week, the playfully titled 'Match.doc' - inspired by the online dating service - sought to spark chemistry between prospective patients and local doctors through short, informal, speed-dating-like sessions." As the physician shortage grows more severe, it "could exacerbate issues with the already underserved population of younger patients, some say. Inspired by similar events at medical centers across the country, Match.doc was particularly geared toward those in their 20s and 30s - or an age set that is historically unattached to primary care physicians. At Hallmark Health's clinic on Main Street in Medford, for instance, only about 30 percent of patients are age 35 and under; roughly 20 percent are in their 20s, according to manager Shirley Kennedy" (Plumb, 10/14).

See a related Kaiser Health News story, "Hospital Tries 'Speed Dating' To Attract Doctors, Patients" (Gold, 5/18).

In a reported column in U.S. News & World Report, a family doctor explains how electronic health records can improve the health of patients. But he writes that "the latest research suggests that electronic health records don't necessarily improve care unless they include interactive features: They should make it easier for doctors to implement proven guidelines for good care, providing the necessary shots and screenings, follow-up exams and treatments to help patients live longer with chronic diseases or to prevent these diseases altogether. Ideally, these records should include a software tool that periodically culls through patients' records looking for gaps in care such as who is overdue for a cholesterol screening or flu vaccine. The system would then send out reminders to patients to come in for a test or appointment" (Lin, 10/13).

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