Friday, January 25, 2013

Providing culturally competent health care

- Kenny Lin, MD

The increasing diversity of the U.S. population has made it more likely that family physicians will care for many patients with cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and practices that are dissimilar to their own. As a previous article in American Family Physician observed, patients' beliefs regarding health and disease causation may pose obstacles to communication even when physicians and patients speak the same language. Using medical interpreters is another skill that takes practice to achieve proficiency, but has clear benefits, according to the author of a Curbside Consultation: "The skills of a medical interpreter or translator include cultural sensitivity and awareness of and respect for all parties, as well as mastery of medical and colloquial terminology, which make possible conditions of mutual trust and accurate communication that lead to effective provision of medical health services."

In the review article "Caring for Latino Patients" in the January 1st issue of AFP, Dr. Gregory Juckett notes that this population faces a number of special medical concerns:

Approximately 43 percent of Mexican Americans older than 20 years are obese, compared with 33 percent of the non-Latino white population. Diabetes and hypertension are closely linked with obesity; 11.8 percent of Latinos older than 20 years have type 2 diabetes (13.3 percent of Mexican Americans), making it the foremost health issue in this population. A higher-calorie diet, a more sedentary lifestyle, and genetic factors contribute to this problem. Because of less access to health care, Latinos with diabetes are often diagnosed later and have a greater risk of complications.

To navigate and resolve cultural differences that may impede understanding and effective treatment, Dr. Juckett advises that clinicians use the LEARN technique for cross-cultural interviewing:

1. Listen sympathetically to the patient's perception of the problem,
2. Explain his or her perception of the problem to the patient,
3. Acknowledge and discuss any differences and similarities between the two views,
4. Recommend a treatment plan, and
5. Negotiate agreement.

For practices that see sizable numbers of Latino patients, the article also includes a helpful list of strategies for creating a culturally sensitive office environment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is there a looming family physician shortage, or not?

- Kenny Lin, MD

Researchers at the American Academy of Family Physicians' Robert Graham Center (which produces the Policy One-Pagers series for AFP) recently predicted in the Annals of Family Medicine that a combination of population growth, aging, and insurance expansion from the Affordable Care Act will create the need for an additional 52,000 primary care physicians by the year 2025 - an increase of nearly 25 percent over the current workforce. Since the vast majority of internal medicine residents plan to pursue subspecialty rather than generalist careers, family medicine will be called on to supply the bulk of this looming gap in physician supply and demand. Recent efforts to increase the supply of family physicians include emphasizing community-based clinical training in medical school and temporarily increasing Medicaid and Medicare primary care fees.

Another strategy for bolstering the family medicine pipeline, contained in the Affordable Care Act, is mandating redistribution of unused residency positions to primary care programs. Unfortunately, an analysis published this month in Health Affairs concluded that a similar Medicare graduate medical education reform in 2005 not only failed to significantly boost primary care, but actually resulted in training twice as many new subspecialists. Dr. Candace Chen and colleagues conclude:

Our findings suggest that redistribution [of unused residency positions] largely supported hospitals in growing their specialty training. Some hospitals even converted primary care positions to specialty positions after receiving newly redistributed positions. ... This shifting collectively perpetuates the nation's physician workforce maldistribution, and our analysis demonstrates that Medicare continues to support these hospitals and even increases its support for them, regardless of the specialty mix of residents trained.

Not everyone agrees that meeting the future health needs of the U.S. population will require a massive influx of family physicians, however. Other researchers have argued that the widespread adoption of team-based care, "advanced access" scheduling, and replacing some in-person with electronic visits could provide enough new patient capacity to prevent a family physician shortage. Still, much uncertainty surrounds this and other projections. What steps is your practice taking, if any, to meet the anticipated needs of so many new patients? Hiring more physicians? Re-designing how you provide care? Please feel free to share your stories.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Questioning the need for annual pelvic examinations

- Kenny Lin, MD

New Year, time for women to schedule their annual pelvic examinations? Not so fast. An editorial that accompanies AFP's Jan. 1 cover article on health maintenance in women challenges this longstanding tradition. This is not the first time that this topic has appeared in the journal; a Curbside Consultation published in 2003 raised similar concerns:

My patients seem comfortable when I tell them they don’t need annual Pap smears. Yet, in teaching settings and among colleagues, I often hear the question, “If we’re not doing Paps, shouldn’t we be doing something?” Sexually transmitted infection screening, contraceptive counseling, safe-sex advice, and clinical breast examination are opportunities that are missed if patients don’t come to the office for annual Pap tests.

In their editorial, Drs. Giang Nguyen and Peter Cronholm observe that the reasons that clinicians commonly provide for continuing to perform these "routine" examinations are inconsistent with evidence-based recommendations. Cervical cancer screening should be performed no more often than every 3 years; ovarian cancer screening is ineffective and likely harmful; contraceptive prescriptions need not be preceded by a pelvic examination; and urine samples are highly accurate at detecting asymptomatic sexually transmitted diseases. The authors conclude:

Taking into account the time required for the patient to undress, the time to obtain the necessary equipment, and the time to perform the procedure, a screening pelvic examination can conservatively add an extra 10 minutes to an office encounter. In addition, because many physicians also require a nurse or medical assistant in the room during this examination, there is an opportunity cost associated with the other work that could have been done by the support staff during this time (e.g., stocking supply cabinets, performing immunizations, making phone calls to patients). Given the lack of evidence to support annual pelvic examinations, it would be better for patients if we spend that time addressing screening, counseling, and other preventive services for which strong evidence exists.

Although evidence supporting an unequivocal benefit of routine examinations (pelvic examination or no) remains elusive, many effective clinical preventive services for women can be provided at health maintenance-oriented visits or in the context of care for other health concerns. The review and patient education handout by Dr. Margaret Riley and colleagues, along with additional content in the AFP By Topic collection on Health Maintenance and Counseling, provide excellent summaries of these services.