Local physicians examine possible residency program
Goal is to settle primary-care doctors in rural areas
Thursday, February 14, 2013
WENATCHEE — With a nationwide shortage of primary care doctors in rural areas, bringing more of them to North Central Washington is critical, says the medical director at Columbia Valley Community Health.
Dr. Malcolm Butler said that is why he is hoping a family medicine residency training center will be operating in Wenatchee by July 2015.
Butler is working with officials at Central Washington Hospital and the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center to establish a training center that would be based at Columbia Valley but would send residents to work at the hospital and with medical center physicians.
This would be the first physician residency program in Wenatchee.
“The idea is to continue to have young physicians flowing into the community,” Butler said.
A residency program should help with that, he said, because studies have shown that about 90 percent of doctors with completed residencies stay within 10 miles of where they did their residency.
The residency program may also put residents in numerous outlying communities, Butler said.
With many new physicians opting for higher-paid positions in specialties, the ranks of primary-care doctors are not enough to care for “the baby boomers who are aging up,” Butler said. Also, a large number of existing primary-care doctors are retiring.
But a huge factor in the need for more primary care-physicians is Obamacare. Butler said the number of patients seeking help from primary-care physicians will jump significantly Jan. 1. That’s when individuals will be able to buy insurance through exchanges, and also when people will qualify for Medicaid at a higher level of income.
“We are anticipating a 20-percent expansion in Wenatchee in the number of people who qualify for Medicaid,” Butler said, “and those people will need primary-care doctors.”
A residency program would last three years, with eight residents in each yearly group, Butler said. When the program is in its third year, it will carry 24 residents.
This spring, officials with Columbia Valley and Confluence Health, which is the new affiliation between the hospital and the medical center, will consider how the program would work. Then, if all parties agree, they will file an application to operate with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, Butler said.
“We are supportive of it, if we can do it,” said Dr. Peter Rutherford, chairman and CEO of the medical center. “But we have to look at logistics: What does it actually take to make a high-quality residence program? We have to have clinical faculty. Who’s going to do the teaching, and how do we pay for that? Those questions still need to be answered to everybody’s satisfaction.”
Butler said Columbia Valley built in room for the residency program when it expanded in 2011.
The residency program would not increase fees for patients, Butler said. It would be funded through Medicare.
Once the program is operational, patients will be seeing residents, along with their attending physicians, when they come for visits to Columbia Valley and Confluence Health.
“This is very common in Seattle,” Butler said. “Almost all hospitals in Seattle are training residents.”
Dee Riggs: 664-7147
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