Primary care physicians have a long history in the United States, but they were not always categorized into a special grouping. From the 1800s on, the specialty grew from “general medicine” and doctors visiting patients in their homes to the foundational providers who holistically manage patient needs we know today. This article will outline the history of the primary care physician and family medicine practice.
From the founding of the nation until the 20th Century, there was not a rigid medical structure in the US. Many doctors practiced “general medicine”, visiting patients in their homes and treating a variety of ailments. Like today’s PCPs, general medicine doctors often served entire families. They diagnosed patients and prescribed medicine and treatments to cure illness, heal injuries, and treat chronic conditions. Many of these early general medicine doctors also performed surgery and helped women give birth. If patients weren’t able to pay with money, they may be able to pay these physicians with gifts or services. While many of these doctors were dedicated to giving quality care to their patients, the standards were not uniform and some were using medical treatments we cringe at today.
The 20th Century
In the 20th century, modernization started to have an impact on general medicine. Science and new technologies improved the way all medical practitioners operated. Formal organizations sought to eliminate “quackery” from medicine, create a thorough education program for new doctors, and enact standards concerning sanitation and prescriptions. Universities created programs for medical degrees and the American Medical Association headed efforts to create residencies for further specialization after a medical degree was earned. Hospitals became major centers for technology and treatment.
A few studies had a major impact on the creation of a primary care specialty: the Folsom Report, the Millis Report, and the Willard Report. These reports stressed the need for continuous and dedicated family medicine practitioners. They called for education programs that helped standardize the way family physicians were taught. And it worked! By the 1980s, the third-largest residency choice among medical school graduates was family medicine.
The 21st Century
Today, primary care physicians are one of the most important aspects of medical care in the U.S. They serve as the touchpoint for all medical needs. Think of them as football quarterbacks, they will be the first to handle the ball on every play. They may score a touchdown themselves or hand the ball off to a specialist when the situation calls for it.
Primary care physicians also created a new avenue for health care in the form of urgent care clinics. These clinics sit between a family doctor’s office and a hospital, bridging the gap in services provided. According to the Urgent Care Association, the number of urgent care clinics rose from 6400 in 2014 to 8100 in 2018, making medical care more accessible than ever. New technologies are also improving their ability to treat many conditions, and the telehealth revolution of the past two years is giving patients more access to their PCPs than ever before.
If you are looking for high-quality primary care in New Jersey, turn to the team at Care Station Medical Group. We offer urgent care clinics and primary care physicians for you and your family. Call today to schedule an appointment!