As the debate about health care reform wages on, doctors and patients face similar challenges. Struggling through the difficult language in the reform bill, physicians wait with bated breath to see whether the new system will truly solve some of the recurrent medical issues in the United States. Some changes, such as electronic medical records, have already had a positive impact on healthcare delivery. As a family physician, however, I feel anxious about the declining patient-to-physician ratio as more individuals seek healthcare and less medical students choose to practice primary care. Healthcare reform must address not only what rights an individual has to healthcare, but also how he or she will have timely access to medical care.

Working at an urgent care center, I understand the importance of immediate, personalized care. Today, many individuals opt not to go to the doctor because of obstacles such as scheduling an appointment and finding physicians who accept their insurance. With an urgent care center such as PromptCare, patients skip many of the hurdles of seeing a traditional general practitioner. These sorts of centers often become a primary link to those who most need acute medical attention in the local community. At such centers, medical professionals administer a higher level of care when they can access a patient’s records electronically, granting immediate access to his or her medical history. The current push for electronic records allows doctors to maintain the highest quality and safety standards for medical attention. This emphasis on patient-centered care must remain one of the driving forces behind healthcare reform. Patient-centered care means integrated services from general practitioners, specialists, and hospitals. The more these professionals communicate about the patient, the better care the patient receives.

With a new Congress already debating about the recently passed healthcare reform legislation, many physicians worry that this patient-centered focus may be lost. President Obama’s reforms certainly provide a higher level of access to quality healthcare services, but the government must do more to encourage current students to pursue careers as healthcare providers. Affordable access to healthcare misses the mark when patients must wait weeks to see a physician. As more individuals receive medical insurance, the demand for timely provider access also increases. Unfortunately, the number of students choosing to pursue careers in family medicine has fallen in recent years and the thought of meeting a rising demand overwhelms many physicians who are currently practicing.

Medical students may look at specialties as better opportunities for higher income than the potential income earned in the practice of primary care. When faced with mounting debt, the choice of practice sometimes is motivated by income potential and the realistic ability to retire debt. Reform measures must take these issues into account in order to create a sustainable healthcare system in the United States.