GPB, 3 p.m. April 21, 10 p.m. April 24
For the past two years, Joani Livingston and Renée McKay have been working to put a face on a little-known problem with the nation’s health care system.
In their new documentary film, "Primary Concern" which airs on Georgia Public Broadcasting this month, the Gainesville-based, Emmy-award winning producers address how the shortage of primary care physicians will affect the nation’s health.
The documentary will air on GPB at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21, and 10 p.m. Wednesday, April 24.
The film describes a "perfect storm" that could result as the Affordable Healthcare Act expands Medicaid coverage for millions while an increasing number of aging baby boomers flood the health care system. The problem is compounded by having more family physicians retire than there are medical students and new doctors to replace them.
"If we don’t get more primary care physicians, we’re in big trouble," Livingston said. "It’s like we’re on the Titanic and we can see the iceberg and we better start talking about how we can fix the problem or it won’t be able to be fixed."
In an effort to make sure the film was as up-to-date as possible, the pair continually researched and monitored the primary care doctor shortage.
Livingston said that when the project began, there wasn’t very much information about the topic, but over time she’s finding as many as six news articles daily.
While there is a slight increase in media attention, the producers said the issue is still very complex and one many people are unaware of.
The film is able to make the issue more meaningful by telling the stories of five primary care physicians working in rural Georgia.
"It’s a really difficult topic," Livingston said. "But we feel by being able to attach a person to the concept, you can really see what’s happening with the doctors we have right now."
The 56-minute film highlights the lives of a senior in medical school as she makes the choice to practice family medicine rather than choosing to practice any of the more profitable specialities; a small-town physician who still makes house calls; and Dr. Jim Hotz, the physician who inspired the 1991 movie "Doc Hollywood."
The doctors share their personal experiences and insights as they prepare for an overburdened health system.
"These doctors in rural Georgia are on the front lines of where we are as a nation in health care," Livingston said. "They’re already struggling and so we just kind of saw what was happening with them up close and personal, what they’re facing in their day."
While the topic of the film covers legislative issues, both Livingston and McKay said the film isn’t political.
"Everyone thinks this is an Obamacare problem, but it has nothing to do with the political stuff at all," Livingston said.
The film’s purpose, she said, is only to encourage conversations that may bring about solutions or perhaps encourage medical students to enter the primary care field.
"Right now we focus on Georgia in particular because it really serves for us as a microcosm of the whole United States," Livingston said. "If Georgia doesn’t address this problem soon, Georgia will be ranked dead last out of all 50 states in health care."
Livingston pointed out that while the United States may offer the best health care services in the world, many people are unable to access care.
She explained that a shortage of primary care physicians would result in people being unable to find or afford preventive care, which could cause illnesses to go undiagnosed or untreated and result in higher health costs across the board.
Livingston said the "point of no return" will be reached in the next 2« years.
"This has been the hardest documentary we’ve ever worked on because it’s been a constantly moving target these last two years," Livingston said.
McKay said that almost everyone they’ve talked to has a personal story of their own. Patients wait weeks for an appointment, only to be given five minutes of the doctor’s time before moving on to another patient.
McKay said many people don’t understand what is happening with the health care system.
"We’ve got these health clinics now on every corner," McKay said. "People, they say ‘Well that’s nice’ and just go to the doctor when they’re sick. But slowly, what’s happening is that because there aren’t enough doctors who can see them regularly, you go to these health clinics on the corner. You go to see your physician and you only have five minutes. ... I think the public just kind of thinks that’s natural. That it’s just kind of evolving. What they don’t realize is that this is becoming really critical and its going to become more difficult to see physicians."
"The signs are all around us," Livingston added. "But (patients) think it’s just individualized but its a huge problem nationwide."