COLUMN: Supporting Teaching Health Centers to Boost Rural Care
Delivering high quality health care in rural communities – including those in Central Washington – has long been a growing challenge. Access to primary care can be time-consuming and costly for medically-underserved rural residents. Less-populated areas are facing a devastating shortage of primary care physicians compared to urban areas. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, while 20 percent of the nation’s population lives in rural areas, only 10 percent of physicians practice in those same areas.
I have heard from and spoken in-person with many physicians and constituents in Central Washington about solutions to improve rural health care. One answer is expanding access to telemedicine, which allows the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients who may live far away from a medical facility. Another solution to this longstanding problem is to promote training for physicians who want to practice family medicine and primary care in rural areas.
I have been working with my colleagues in the House of Representative to ensure physicians who want to serve rural areas are equipped with medical training and education. I joined Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and almost 50 other colleagues to introduce the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act of 2017. This legislation extends authorization for funding for community-based health centers that promote and extend training for medical professionals across the U.S.
Renewing the “Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program” would maintain an important source of support for development of a primary care workforce in rural areas. The program has been very successful in recruiting primary care doctors to train and then stay in rural communities where they study as a part of the program. 60 percent of Teaching Health Center training sites are in medically-underserved communities. In fact, there are three of these medical training centers in our region: two Yakima Valley Farm Workers’ clinics as well as Community Health of Central Washington. Currently, the Teaching Health Center program is set to expire at the end of September, so this legislation I helped introduce would extend authorization for three years at a level that encourages support for more than 740 students nationwide.
While renewing support for students at these training centers is not a cure-all for providing better rural health care, it goes a long way to preserve an important source of physicians for areas that are suffering a shortage. I am committed to supporting solutions like the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act of 2017 to improve health care delivery for rural communities in Washington.