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If you live in the city of Detroit, you may find yourself driving to the suburbs for your primary care services.

There are roughly 50-100 primary care doctors in Detroit, according to top officials in the Detroit Health Department,. For a city of 683,000 people, that’s about one doctor for every 6,000-12,000 residents, which is horribly underserved.

We need more primary care doctors in our communities. Data released by the American Academy of Family Physicians reveals that an increase in one primary care doctor per 10,000 people reduces hospital admissions by 5.5 percent, ER visits by 10.9 percent and surgeries by 7.2 percent.

In an era of greater awareness of health care expenditures, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Unfortunately, the medical system does not incentivize primary care medicine. Specialists are reimbursed at much higher rates than primary care specialists.

And the graduating medical student is acutely aware of these discrepancies in pay.

As the average student considers an average salary of $443,000 as an orthopedist or $204,000 as a pediatrician, choosing primary care medicine becomes economically strenuous.

And for those doctors who choose primary care specialties, offices are often set up in more affluent neighborhoods where the reimbursement levels are higher.

These location selection decisions are often out of the hands of individual doctors and dictated by corporate, profit-driven health systems.

But, there is hope. The longstanding work of free and low-cost clinics like CHASS, the Student Run Free Clinic, HUDA, and Joy-Southfield Clinics should be acknowledged.

It is also encouraging that the Michigan State University of Osteopathic Medicine Popoff Clinic on Mack Avenue on the East Side is complementing these stalwarts. Additionally, a Direct Primary Care service, Plum Health DPC, in Corktown is providing another option for Detroit residents.

Finally, as downtown, Midtown and New Center become more sustainable, primary care services should begin to take hold with potential spillover benefits for adjacent neighborhoods.

Paul Thomas is a family medicine doctor with Plum Health Direct Primary Care in Detroit.

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