Lawrence continues to face a long-term shortage of primary care doctors, despite efforts to recruit them to the community.
The number of family practice and internal medicine doctors in Lawrence each increased by just one from 2008 to 2013.
"When you look at who's leaving, who's retiring, who's moving, who's going part time — we have really made almost no progress," Sherri Vaughn, a family doctor who recruits physicians for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, told the hospital's Board of Trustees at a recent meeting. "It's a daunting task."
Still, Lawrence isn't unique in this regard, and is actually facing less of a shortage than many places across the state and country, particularly those in rural areas. However, the state has already classified Douglas County as having an inadequate number of primary care providers to serve its low-income and Medicaid-eligible populations.
Vaughn said the shortage is also a concern because of the importance of primary care doctors to providing "downstream revenue." If, for instance, a Lawrence resident has to go out of town to see a primary care physician, that doctor will likely refer to specialists and labs in that community. "It is the feeder to everything else," she said. She noted that the number of hospitalists, who are primary care doctors who only see patients in the hospital, went from seven in 2008 to 10 now, which she called adequate.
One of the hospital's most recent recruits is Dr. Bonnie Cramer, who started at Family Medicine of Baldwin City in June.
"A big factor for me and probably for a lot of people is you want to have a good balance between your work life and your personal life," said Cramer, who is married with two kids. "We have a great hospitalist program and pediatricians. That allows me to focus my time on the clinic in Baldwin and not have to drive back and forth to the hospital."
LMH's long-term strategic plan calls for strengthening the relationship between the hospital and its medical staff, including adding a physician liaison position in 2014 to foster relationships between doctors and hospital administration. Hospital officials say they also intend to follow through on improvements identified in their annual physician satisfaction survey, namely enhancing the functionality of their electronic health record system.
"To me, personally, I feel that building a robust community of primary care doctors is critical to the quality of life in our community," said John Bullock, a member of the LMH Board of Trustees. "And it seems that increasing the synergy between that group of doctors and what the hospital offers helps insure the success of the hospital, which I also feel is vitally important to our community objectives."
Asked if the recruitment could be seen as self-serving for the hospital, Vaughn noted that she has helped set up interviews for candidates with private family clinics in Lawrence.
"We're trying to really focus on the community, not just our own practices," she said.