A report earlier this year from the Association of American Medical Colleges ranked the state 41st in the number of active physicians. The report forecasts that Georgia will rank last in the nation by 2020, with a shortfall of some 2,500 physicians.
And that, according to Tanner Health System President and CEO Loy Howard, will directly impact the health of Georgia’s residents.
“The number of medical providers available in a community has a major impact on that community’s ability to access care,” said Howard. “In an area with a single cardiologist, for instance, it can take months to get an appointment. A team of cardiologists — specializing in a range of cardiac services — means that appointments are easier to make and more services are available. That’s true of almost every area of medicine.”
To combat this trend, Tanner is focusing its efforts on being a place where physicians want to practice, with investments in technology and a commitment to delivering quality care.
“We’ve been nationally recognized for our level of care,” said Howard, referring to Tanner’s 2012 ranking among the 15 Top Health Systems in the nation by research firm Thomson Reuters. “That tells doctors that this is a place they can be proud to practice, because we’re committed to helping them deliver the best care possible. And for the physicians who are here, it’s something to really be proud of.”
In the past fiscal year, Tanner’s medical staff surged past 300 physicians as almost 40 doctors joined the staff. Those who join represent growth in terms of adding or expanding services — specializing in areas such as radiology, cardiology, pain management, nephrology and more — improving access to care while ensuring that area residents will be able to see the specialist they need close to home.
Among the physicians who joined Tanner’s medical staff in the past year is Dr. Heather Park, a board-certified surgeon specializing in vascular surgery with Tanner Vascular Surgery, a part of Tanner Medical Group.
“I’m from the South, and really only looked at practices in the South,” said Park. “As I was looking all over the Southeast for practices, I ran across the position here at Tanner and it met all the criteria I was looking for.”
Park said she was looking for an “up-and-coming” vascular practice in a relatively small market.
“I wanted to be able to really feel like I was making a difference,” she said. “As I looked at Tanner, it became obvious that they were really committed not only to growing the practice, but to delivering high-quality health care to people. When I came to visit, I liked everyone I met who was associated with the organization, and the community was a really good fit for my husband and I.”
Park said Tanner’s investment in expanding access to care in her field was apparent with the health system’s opening of a new endovascular surgical suite at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton, which opened earlier this month as part of the hospital’s surgical services expansion.
That, according to Dr. Park, exemplifies the health system’s commitment to attracting and retaining physicians who can deliver high-quality care.
“As a physician, the endovascular surgical suite we’ve just opened is state of the art,” she said. “It’s as nice as anything that exists anywhere in the country. I think that’s part of the commitment Tanner’s made to delivering really high quality care to people.”
Another endovascular lab is also scheduled to open in early 2013 at Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica, and Tanner Medical
Group has expanded Tanner Vascular Surgery to operate locations in Carrollton and Villa Rica.
With Tanner Vascular Surgery, Park practices with Dr. Glenn Whitney, a board-certified vascular surgeon.
Also part of keeping care accessible in west Georgia is keeping a strong number of primary care providers — such as family practitioners, internal medicine specialists and pediatricians — available. A large number of physicians in all of these specialties joined Tanner’s medical staff in the past year, including Dr. Brent Harris, a family practitioner who joined Professional Park Medical Services in Carrollton.
For Harris, going into medicine fulfilled a dream he’d had since he was a child, but finding an opportunity to practice close to home in a familiar community attracted him to Carrollton.
“We have family here,” Harris said. “I’m from Tyrone and my wife grew up in Acworth, so this is pretty close to home for us. This community has a lot of culture and a great atmosphere. It’s similar to what I’m used to.”
His wife, Dr. Anna Harris, a radiation oncologist, also joined Tanner’s medical staff in the past year with Tanner Radiation Oncology, a Tanner Medical Group practice. The couple now lives in Carrollton.
While an increasing number of physicians choose to specialize in more narrow areas of practice, family care presents Harris with the opportunity to treat a wide range of conditions.
“I like the wide scope of practice that I get with family practice,” Harris said. “I get to see a wide variety of things come in the office. That’s fun for me. I think I’d lose interest in specializing in a field where I’d be doing the same thing over and over again.”
With Professional Park Medical Services, Harris practices with Dr. Jack Birge, Dr. Charles Davis III, Dr. Gregory Floyd and Dr. J. Taylor Gordon.
Along with helping to improve the region’s health, the growing number of physicians in the region also pays dividends for west Georgia’s economy.
According to the American Medical Association and the Medical Association of Georgia, almost more than 97,000 Georgians have jobs supported by office-based physicians, and each office-based physician in Georgia helps create 5.8 jobs.
Office-based physicians also contribute $24.3 billion to the state’s economy in sales revenue — representing more than 6 percent of the state’s gross domestic output — as well as another $15.4 billion in wages and benefits.
For the state and local governments, office-based physicians also account for $1.06 billion in tax revenue.
Beyond the figures and fears of a shortage, though, remains an opportunity to provide care in a community that’s truly unique.
“I really enjoy being part of a close medical community,” said Dr. Park. “All of the physicians work together to take care of people. Just this morning, I picked up the phone and called another doctor about a patient I was seeing in the office, and then I received a similar phone call from someone else about a mutual patient. It’s so nice that we don’t have secretaries talking to secretaries — we talk to each other, one-on-one, and that helps us take better care of people. That’s surprising for a lot of doctors, and it’s a really good thing.”