The solo practice family doctor is becoming less and less common. But a local primary care group is surviving the test of time, and celebrating twenty years of service. WFSU sat down with some of the doctors there to find out how healthcare has changed in the past two decades.
That image of the individual doctor, following generations of families, even making house calls is becoming much more rare, says Dr. Karl Hempel.
“When I started there were a lot of family physicians that were practicing by themselves, or a couple of family physicians. You don’t see that anymore hardly at all,” Hempel said.
Business demands, overhead costs and malpractice coverage all make it harder for individual doctors to survive. That’s why he joined Tallahassee Primary Care Associates when it first began twenty years ago.
Hempel says being in a larger group practice with 51 providers and 72,000 patients, helps doctors weather sweeping changes.
In the fifteen years Dr. Jayati Singh has been with TPCA, she says the day to day business of a physician has changed drastically.
“I would say electronic medical records. It has changed my life,” Singh said. “It’s efficient in some ways, in the sense we are not looking for charts we are not looking for labs…in a lot of ways there are less problems. But it’s a lot longer. Your day’s gotten a lot longer.”
Dr. Stacia Groll is excited about the access that comes with technology.
“We have portals so our patients can directly access their charts and their labs and make corrections and review things. They can also access us and ask questions directly that way,” Groll said.
But Dr. Hugh VanLandingham says providers are still trying to figure out how to strike a balance between the demands of technology and the needs of the patient.
“You have to have all these different boxes checked. And you forget, well you don’t forget, but you have to find that balance between looking and talking to the patient. Which is the most important thing in medicine,” VanLandingham said.
Looking forward at the next twenty years, the group imagines technology, and remote patient interaction, will play an even larger role. Here’s Dr. VanLandingham, then Hempel, and Singh.
“It’s going to be more and more automated. More and more computer run. And also more and more telemedicine. That’s what it looks like to me,” VanLandingham said.
“Yeah. That’s what patients want," Hempel agreed. "Particularly younger patients. They don’t want to come in.”
Singh pushed back.
“I think patients will always want that human component though. I think they’ll always want to have a doctor to connect with. You don’t think Karl?” she asked.
“Some of them will, but some of them really don’t,” Hempel responded.
VanLandingham worries that the quality of care could suffer if doctors aren’t physically interacting with patients. But at a time when some patients lack basic transportation, Dr. Singh says convenience and access are key.
“We have a lot of patients that are waiting for buses to come. When I ran out to today, I had a patient that was still waiting for transport to come pick them up because they don’t have cars, they don’t have a way to get around,” Singh said.
That lack of access, and an interest in building the practice around patients’ needs, is spurring TPCA to make some changes. They opened up an urgent care clinic, make same day visits available, and schedule appointments on Saturdays. The group says a large practice enables adaptation. And that means better outcomes for patients.