It's Spring and Allergy Season is Upon Us. Is our Primary Care Workforce Ready to Meet Patient Needs?

Mar 28, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by Nancy Fishman

By Nancy Fishman, BSN, MPH and Maryjoan Ladden, PhD, RN, FAAN. Fishman and Ladden are senior program offers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Spring is blooming all around us here in central New Jersey and that means nice weather, flowers and a constant search for allergy solutions! For those of us on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital team, this brings up several questions about how to use the primary care workforce more creatively. In this scenario, who in the primary care office could help us with our common allergy symptoms? How would we feel if we went in for a visit and didn’t see a health professional but were instead counseled about common over-the-counter treatments by the medical assistant according to standard protocol?

These are questions that seem practical and every day, but tie back to some basic questions about the primary care workforce and how we could be more creative in using all members of that workforce to improve patient access to care and the value of that care.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we are all aware of the shortage of primary care providers – but short of producing a large number of physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants this instant – we need to get creative with what we have.

To that end, we are thrilled to be launching a new program to identify those practices that are already creatively using their whole office teams in new ways. This program “The Primary Care Team: Learning from Effective Ambulatory Practices” (LEAP) will first identify and then study sites that have succeeded in providing high quality health care and involving all staff in new and creative ways.

We believe that studying these sites will provide us with insights that we can share with other practices that would like to make changes.

We are so pleased to be partnering with Ed Wagner, MD, MPH, Director of the MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation at Group Health Research Institute and Margaret Flinter, PhD, APRN, senior vice president and clinical director of the Community Health Center, Inc., a statewide Federally Qualified Health Center in Connecticut and director of its Weitzman Center for Innovation, as the co- directors of LEAP, and with Tom Bodenheimer, MD, MPH, adjunct professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, who will serve as chair of its National Advisory Committee. Using the combination of big picture and on-the-ground experience, we are designing a project that will help primary care practices all over the country.

Our hope is that LEAP will help bring us closer to the day when allergy sufferers – and all of us – can count on getting the care we need when we need it from a primary care workforce that is functioning as efficiently as it can.

What do you think? How can we use health professionals and other staff more effectively in primary care to improve access and value?

Learn more about LEAP.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.