Monday, February 11, 2019

The family physician's role in vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring 3 current measles outbreaks in the United States, and most of the affected individuals are children under the age of 10 who did not receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Infected travelers to the US appear to be the sources for these outbreaks, but the disease's spread after its arrival has primarily been due to under-vaccination. Reporting suspected cases, discussing vaccine hesitancy with caregivers, and optimizing our office vaccination processes are all tangible ways for family physicians to respond.

Coughing and sneezing spread the highly contagious measles virus, and individuals are infectious from 4 days prior to 4 days after the appearance of its pathognomonic rash. Measles infection complications include pneumonia, ear infections, permanent hearing loss, encephalitis, permanent brain injury, and death. Physicians who suspect a patient may have measles should promptly contact their local health department. Unfortunately, CDC data demonstrate that these current measles outbreaks in the US are nothing new. Pockets of under-vaccinated communities across the US have provided easy targets for measles' spread once it's introduced.

Increasing vaccination rates is a critical but challenging component of the solution. With vaccine hesitancy now among the World Health Organization's (WHO) top 10 threats to global health, it's critical that we redouble our efforts to combat the spread of misinformation about vaccines. Discussions with vaccine-hesitant parents in the office can feel futile, but family physicians should remember that their recommendation is the most common reason cited when parents do decide to vaccinate. Phrasing vaccine recommendations as statements instead of questions correlates with higher vaccination rates. Eliciting and responding to caregivers' specific concerns can also be useful.

Our office staff can work with us to reinforce these messages, too. This 2016 AFP Editorial on Strategies for Addressing and Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy includes links to several additional resources. An FPM article on improving influenza vaccination rates includes office strategies relevant to all types of vaccinations. The WHO's Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy website provides "a guide for exploring health worker/caregiver interactions on immunization" along with an online training module on "conversations with hesitant caregivers."

In the face of these outbreaks, combating vaccine hesitancy remains as critical as ever. What strategies have you found useful?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Does subspecialist medical care add sufficient value to be worth the added cost?

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

The latest Graham Center One-Pager in the February 1 issue of AFP contained good news and bad news for Family Medicine. Examining the entry of medical students into residency programs between 2008 and 2018, Dr. Robert Baillieu and colleagues reported that the total number of graduates who entered Family Medicine through the National Residency Matching Program increased by 64% over the past decade. However, the annual proportion of U.S. allopathic (MD) graduates remained static at around 50%, reflecting the continued migration of most students into higher-paying medical subspecialties.

Two previous AFP Community Blog posts reviewed research demonstrating that students entering family medicine are more likely to make patient-centered, cost-conscious clinical decisions and that primary care physicians who trained in low-cost hospital service areas are more likely to provide high-value care in practice. The late health services researcher Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH once argued that a lack of investment in primary care is a major reason that the U.S. health system spends so much but produces poor outcomes:

The thing that is wrong with our current health care system is that it is not designed to produce the best effectiveness, efficiency and equity in health services because it is too focused on things that are unnecessary and of high cost rather than arranging services so that the most needed services are provided when needed and with high quality. [This] is the case because the country has not put sufficient emphasis during the past 50 years on a good infrastructure of primary care. ... We have done a reasonably good job at making subspecialty care available, but a lot of subspecialty care is not necessary if you have good primary care. So we end up with a very expensive system that does things unnecessarily.

In a recent nationally representative study in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. David Levine and colleagues examined associations between receipt of outpatient primary care and care value and patient experience. Using Dr. Starfield's definition of primary care as "first-contact care that is comprehensive, continuous, and coordinated," the authors compared the quality and experience of care in more than 70,000 U.S. adults with and without primary care who participated in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 2012 to 2014. 70% of the primary care clinicians identified by patients were family physicians (19% were general internists). After adjustment for potential sources of confounding, respondents with primary care were more likely to receive high-value preventive care and counseling and to report better patient experiences than those without primary care. However, respondents with primary care were also slightly more likely to receive low-value prostate cancer screening and antibiotics for respiratory infections.

In an accompanying editorial that noted the disparity in primary care investment between the U.S. (7% of total health care spending) and the health systems of other industrialized nations (20%), Dr. Allan Goroll asked: "Does primary care add sufficient value to deserve better funding?" Although this formulation recognizes that the American status quo is a subspecialist-oriented health system, it seems to me that the question ought to be, "Does subspecialist medical care add sufficient value to primary care be worth the added cost?" From this study and previously published evidence, the answer appears to be no.