Primary Care in the 21st Century

On October 20, faculty, trainees, and supporters interested in the future of primary care medicine gathered in Method Atrium for the inaugural Davee Foundation Endowed Lecture on the Future of Primary Care Medicine. This lecture, established through the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was made possible through gifts from The Davee Foundation, which has been a longtime, generous philanthropic partner of the medical school and Northwestern University.

The United States is experiencing an alarming decline in the number of new doctors practicing primary care medicine. The Center for Primary Care Innovation at Northwestern seeks to address this crisis by developing novel methods to transform primary care clinical practice, education, and research. This will be done through the education of a talented and prepared work force, through research into important questions about improving care, and through the implementation of this knowledge within healthcare systems.

Primary Care Innovation at Northwestern

Dr. Stephen Persell

Stephen D. Persell, MD, MPH, FACP, associate professor of Medicine, who also serves as director of the Center for Primary Care Innovation, asked attendees to imagine a future without primary care — one managed primarily by urgent care clinics that lack relationships between doctors and patients. In this future, getting healthcare would be like “buying a latte.”

“We have seen that better primary care equals healthier communities overall. What’s more, these communities also see fewer health disparities between different populations,” said Dr. Persell. “Primary care doctors serve a unique purpose—they are experts on prevention, they help patients to prioritize their healthcare needs, and they often reduce the use of financially wasteful tests and procedures.”

Dr. Barbara Bayldon

Barbara W. Bayldon, MD, FAAP, associate professor of Pediatrics and associate director of the Center for Primary Care Innovation, spoke about the pediatric perspective on primary care, sharing some startling statistics on how even greater disparities can exist within this more vulnerable group.

“Social determinants contribute more than 50 percent to the health and wellness of children,” said Dr. Bayldon. She went on to tout the need for innovation in primary care in order to reach this at-risk population. “The best way to guide change is to lead change. If we focus on this together through the Center for Primary Care Innovation, we at Northwestern can be those leaders.”

Deborah S. Clements, MD, FAAFP, who serves as chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine and associate director of the Center for Primary Care Innovation, spoke about the importance of mentoring in the development of future primary care physicians. Dr. Clements also is the Nancy and Warren Furey Professor of Community Medicine, and shared her gratitude to the Fureys—who were in attendance—for their generous investment in revolutionizing primary care at the medical school.

Dr. Deborah Clements

“Evidence overwhelmingly shows that medical trainees choose primary care medicine because of their mentors’ influence,” said Dr. Clements. “We have to keep teaching and helping to bring up these leaders so that we can continue to strengthen this important area of medicine.”

Dr. Clements also introduced John Frey, ’70 MD, who served as the inaugural Davee Foundation Endowed Lecturer. Dr. Frey is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He also was one of Dr. Clements’ most influential mentors.

“John told me I would need courage for the path I was on,” said Dr. Clements. “He helped to give me that courage.”

How to Effect Change in Primary Care

“I am who I am because I came to Northwestern,” said Dr. Frey, who is an alumnus of the medical school class of 1970. Today, he is a national spokesperson on family medicine.

Dr. John Frey

Dr. Frey presented a short history of primary care at Northwestern, which was practically nonexistent when he was a medical trainee in the late 1960s. He then provided a bright view of the future. He spoke about the benefits of small practice group networks, which provide benefits for both the physician and the patient, a higher level of morale among employees, as well as a consistently high level of preventive care. He also spoke about extension programs where physicians work as allies across health systems to collaborate on prevention and treatment.

“The way we deliver care is going to be exciting,” said Dr. Frey. “It is a great time to make an investment in something that will change the lives of physicians, patients, and communities. As a top academic medical center, Northwestern has an opportunity to lead the way in this exciting next chapter.”

At the close of the lecture, Dr. Persell made an exciting announcement about new funding opportunities within the Center for Primary Care Innovation. The Global Health Initiative Fund-sponsored Catalyzer Research Awards are now available to Feinberg faculty. Projects should address critical issues involved in practicing primary care in the 21st century, as well as improving patient outcomes. Preference will be given to projects that include mentoring of medical students in primary care.

Learn more about the Center for Primary Care Innovation.

“The best way to guide change is to lead change. If we focus on this together through the Center for Primary Care Innovation, we at Northwestern can be those leaders.”

- Dr. Barbara Bayldon