Reckon talked with young doctors who live and work in communities across the South. We asked them what they think are the biggest problems facing rural healthcare in the South, and how they’d fix those problems if they had unlimited resources. Read on for their real-world solutions.
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Dr. Fred Kency Jr., Jackson, Miss.
Fred Kency honed his medical skills caring for U.S. Navy service members as a naval physician. After he left the service, he came back to his home state of Mississippi. He’s now an emergency room physician at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where his wife is also a physician.
For Kency, 36, there’s rarely a dull moment in emergency medicine.
“We see everything from someone coming in with a stubbed toe to cardiac arrests, gunshot victims, knife stabbings – you name it, we see it,” he said.
While his hospital is located in the state’s capital and largest city, Kency sees patients from 50 miles or more in every direction, plus transfers from smaller hospitals even further away.
Kency often sees patients using the emergency room for non-emergency medical issues that could be better addressed by a primary care physician.
“If they were getting taken care of by a primary care doctor, that would take a lot of the load from emergency rooms,” he said. “How many times has a patient had to wait on a stretcher or at another hospital because we have patients in rooms for a cough or a toothache?”
And further, he said, patients might end up paying much more to be seen in an ER for a minor complaint than they would by getting that complaint addressed at primary care doctor’s office.
But for some patients – particularly those who live in rural areas – primary doctors can be few and far between. The lack of access can also mean that it’s difficult to get a same-day appointment, which he said can send some to the emergency room because they feel they can’t wait several days or weeks to be seen.
“When patients don’t have easy access to (primary) care, they utilize emergency rooms more, because it can be hard to plan,” Kency said. “Before my mom retired, she worked a basic job, and in order to miss a day of work for a doctor, would sometimes require she miss a day of pay. People look at the financial math as it is today, and not two to four months from now” when a higher hospital bill might come due, he said.
America needs more physicians, particularly in underserved areas, he said. He’d like to see the government offer more financial incentives for primary and specialist physicians to care for patients regardless of insurance status.
Doctors have to pay the bills too, he said, which means that some will choose to take on more patients who have insurance that pays.
“If we had some type of process that could offer a tax credit or student loan repayment as reimbursement for taking a portion of uninsured patients,” he said, “that could motivate them to see more patients who don’t have a payer source.”