Accessibility, affordability and quality are just a few of the many critical issues facing Mississippians in the healthcare arena.
In a recent Q&A interview with the Mississippi Business Journal, Ken Davis, M.D., chief medical officer with Tupelo-based North Mississippi Health Services, provides his insights on trends affecting Mississippians.
Mississippi Business Journal: From a healthcare delivery standpoint, what are the top three challenges facing North Mississippi today? Are they consistent with what you’re seeing in Mississippi overall?
Ken Davis, M.D.: All of Mississippi has similar health issues. Access to healthcare is the number one issue. As you know, Mississippi has the lowest physician-to-population ratio in the country. This access is especially difficult for the growing number of Mississippians with no insurance, such as the working poor.
Efforts are underway to increase the number of physicians training at the University of Mississippi, but this will take legislative funding to increase the training infrastructure. Estimates are that the United States will have as much as a 200,000 physician shortage in the next 10 years. This nationwide shortage will hit Mississippi hard. We need to train and retain our Mississippi native physicians. The recent tort reforms in the Mississippi Legislature and Supreme Court have made a big impact on retaining Mississippi physicians. The Health Department plays a crucial role in health access for Mississippians.
After access to clinicians, affordability of prescriptions is a significant challenge for many Mississippians. The third most important issue is infant mortality. We need to understand this trend and find a way to care for our most vulnerable population of infants. A fourth would be trauma care. The current trauma system is woefully underfunded and having significant stress. A legislative committee is studying ways to shore up holes in trauma care in Mississippi. Trauma affects each of us.
MBJ: Physician recruitment has been cited in the past as a considerable challenge for our state and region. Initiatives such as the Family Medicine Residency program at NMMC have been deemed effective in drawing talent. What other physician recruitment programs have worked well for NMHS?
KD: We currently have 20 family practice residents in the NMMC (North Mississippi Medical Center) program. This program is funded internally by the hospital without state funds. Eight-five percent of these graduates are practicing in Mississippi and 75% in Northeast Mississippi. It is clear that physicians stay close to where they train. We have been successful in recruiting physicians in every specialty in Tupelo. One of the key incentives to recruitment of physicians is educational opportunities for their children. Strong public education and opportunities for private education for their children is essential in attracting physicians.
We currently have 450 physicians in our six-hospital health system, with 250 of those in Tupelo. Our goal is to have a net gain of 10 physicians per year. Over recent years we have averaged losing 20 physicians per year to retirement or relocation. We have to recruit 30 new physicians per year to attain this net goal. This remains a challenge for us, but one of our most critical measures to continue our mission of improving the health of the people in our service region.
MBJ: You and your colleagues have worked on improvement initiatives for many years now — long before NMMC earned its Baldrige honor. From quantitative and qualitative standpoints, how can large medical organizations get their arms around the quality initiative in a way that is meaningful for very diverse issues?
We in healthcare must improve the quality and lower the costs of the services we provide. At North Mississippi Health Services we have proven that you can do both. We have been all over the country showing others what we have done. It is wonderful for North Mississippi Medical Center to be recognized as the 2006 Malcolm Baldrige healthcare winner, only the sixth hospital in the history to have this prestigious designation. At the same time, it is humbling in that we know that even though we are one of the best hospitals in the country, we still have a lot of work to do.
The new emphasis on transparency of healthcare measures and outcomes will be very beneficial for consumers to know how to judge value in their health care and will also encourage healthcare providers to continue improving. One of the key elements in improvement of our services is involvement of our patients and community in the details of what and how we can improve. This ranges from survey feedback to personal communication with physicians and management to direct patient and family involvement on our process improvement teams.