Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) announced the launch of Practice Howard, an innovative program designed to reduce the shortage of primary care physicians in Howard County. The program is a joint effort with the Howard County government, which is providing grant funding to support new physicians and their practices.

Through Practice Howard, new physicians and their practices in Howard County, which were selected through a competitive evaluation process, will receive resources to cover the following costs.

● Physician recruitment costs, such as advertising and other outreach.
● Education and training on innovative care delivery models for all practice staff.
● Loan repayment and housing assistance for doctors.
● Stop-gap funding to cover initial billing losses common when establishing a practice.

Johns Hopkins Health System research shows that the county faces a significant shortage of about 80 primary care physicians and internists within five years. The shortage will be caused by increased demand from population growth, including a disproportionate increase in residents older than age 55, combined with reduced supply, as more community doctors approach retirement.

Becoming a primary care physician is often not an attractive choice for doctors right out of medical school. The pay is less than that for other specialties, which is a major factor for students who amass debts that frequently exceed $300,000. Additionally, if a medical practice can find a doctor to recruit, low reimbursement rates by insurance companies mean that office is likely to lose money, at least initially, when it hires the new physician.

Through a formal bid process that included hospital, county and community representation, two medical practices have been selected to participate in the first year of the program. Columbia Medical Practice and Centennial Medical Group are now recruiting for new hires, and doctors are expected to start by the summer. Resources will be provided to physicians and their practices in an amount of approximately $60,000 per year for five years. Doctors must agree to live in Howard County and maintain their practice for at least five years.

Within a few months, it is expected that 4,000 Howard County residents will have better access to primary care, with the number doubling in a year, depending on additional resources. Greater access to physicians will mean fewer emergency room visits, better treatment of chronic conditions and more screenings and disease prevention. Funds to support targeted training will help address mental health screening and referrals.