S.C. physician earns national voice

07/28/2013 12:00 AM

07/27/2013 7:27 PM

Dr. Gerald Harmon, a family medicine physician from Pawleys Island, recently was elected to the board of trustees of the American Medical Association. His answers to a few questions reveal his perspective on his profession.

What does having a South Carolina physician on the AMA board mean for our state?

The AMA is the recognized national leader for organized medicine. Our state medical society has always had a close relationship with the AMA; having a local physician serving in AMA leadership means the perspective of S.C. medicine will be readily available to the AMA.

What skills or knowledge do you hope to bring back to our state?

The knowledge and awareness of national health care policy that one gains from leadership involvement at the AMA Board level should be helpful with discussions of health policy at the state and local level.

What health issues are important to you that you hope to guide during your time as trustee? What about policy issues?

One of the biggest issues facing physicians today is the instability of the Medicare system. Physicians need the flexibility to pick a Medicare delivery and payment model that will best work for their practice and patients – these models may include a patient-centered medical home, accountable care organizations and bundled payments. The AMA is leading efforts to move beyond the current, broken Medicare physician payment formula toward a program that will enable the best possible health outcomes for our patients and a stable and professionally rewarding practice environment.

I’m also concerned about the availability of physicians and all members of our health care work force over the next decade. Work force experts predict that the U.S. will face a shortage of 130,000 physicians across all medical specialties by 2025. This shortage will be made worse by the increased demand on our health care system as more seniors enroll in Medicare and newly insured Americans seek access to care next year.

Medical schools are expanding enrollment to meet future needs, but the number of Graduate Medical Education positions (residencies, internships and fellowships) has lagged far behind. The number of Medicare funded GME slots has been frozen by the federal government since 1997. GME funding must be protected, and the cap on residency slots must be lifted to effectively address the physician shortage.

As a physician, why did you feel it was important to get involved with an organization such as the AMA?

Challenges like physician work force shortages and ensuring patient access to care can really only be addressed on a large scale, national level. The AMA is best positioned to address these challenges due to its strong physician leadership.

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