September 27, 2013 03:28 pm Jessica Pupillo – A little more than a month ago, Keith Davis, M.D., returned to Albany, Ore., for his 40th high school reunion. While he was in the area, he visited his mother, who reminded him of one of the many reasons he has championed patient access to care in the Idaho community that he now calls home.
His mother had found an image in a Shriners Hospital fundraising booklet of Davis as a small child. The black-and-white image shows 2-year-old Davis sitting in a hospital crib with casts on his legs and two physicians in attendance.
"I was born with bilateral club feet," Davis recalled. "We went to Shriners Hospital in Portland, Ore., and I had surgery when I was 2 and when I was 5.
"I was really a beneficiary of a program set up to allow access to care way back in the '50s," he said. Without the life-changing surgery, Davis added, his life may have been much different. "There are people out there who can benefit so much from really basic medical services that are available, but not available to them."
Improving access to primary care services has been Davis' vocation throughout his 28-year career in family medicine in Shoshone, Idaho. Because of his work, he has been named the AAFP's 2014 Family Physician of the Year. The award honors one outstanding American family physician who provides patients with compassionate and comprehensive care and who serves as a role model -- both professionally and personally -- in his or her community, to other health professionals, and to residents and medical students.
Putting Patients First
As the sole physician in Lincoln County, Idaho -- an area about the size of Rhode Island with a population of more than 5,000 -- it's hard to find a health care program in the community that Davis has not had an impact on. In addition to running Shoshone Family Medical Center, Davis is the medical director of a local hospice, the county coroner, an ER physician at St. Luke's Jerome Medical Center, and the emergency medical services director for Lincoln and nearby Jerome counties.
On top of all that, Davis routinely makes house calls, nursing home calls and assisted-living calls. He recently delivered a baby who marks the fifth generation of patients Davis has cared for from the same family. It all comes with the territory when you practice rural medicine, he said.
"When you know the parents, grandparents, even great-great-grandparents, it helps you know the setting the patient is in," said Davis. And his patients hail his attentiveness and their ready access to him or to one of his physician assistants or nurses.
"At our appointments, he has never hurried us and always has taken the time to visit with us after the medical treatment or examination was through," said Dorrell Hansen in his letter supporting Davis' nomination as AAFP Family Physician of the Year. Hansen has been a patient of Davis' since 1985. "His friendliness seems to rub off on his staff. He is and has been a definite asset to the community, and we thank him for his service," Hansen added.
To help meet the needs of the community, Davis has brought additional patient-centered medical services into Lincoln County. For example, he hired two licensed clinical social workers to provide mental health services to county residents. "This has been a huge help because there was little to no counseling available in the county previously," Davis said. He has also expanded his practice to offer patients an American Diabetes Association-recognized diabetes education program.
2014 AAFP Family Physician of the Year Keith Davis, M.D.
Staying True to His Roots
Davis is devoted to encouraging the next generation of family physicians to consider practicing in rural underserved communities. As a clinical instructor for the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Davis mentors medical students during a four-week immersion program in rural family medicine called the Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program.
"I know that students usually study medicine in urban areas. Unless they grew up in a rural area like I did, they may believe they will have to live and practice in urban areas, too," said Davis.
But that's not necessarily the case, he added. "One of the great qualities of family medicine is the need for our services in all parts of the country. Idaho ranks low in physicians per capita but also high in average age of practicing physicians. It is important to Idaho and many other parts of the country to show students that rural practice can be personally rewarding and financially sustainable."
Another way Davis is working to foster a healthier Idaho is by serving on the steering committee of the Idaho Statewide Healthcare Innovation Plan, a CMS-funded initiative that aims to design and develop an integrated and efficient health care system in the state. Davis hopes this initiative ultimately will improve health care delivery by strengthening primary care and enhancing access to affordable, quality care.
And, next year, Davis will take on a new challenge. He was named president-elect of the Idaho Medical Association during the association's annual meeting in July, and will ascend to the presidency in July 2014. The position provides one more opportunity for Davis to advocate the issues he is passionate about, including ensuring access to care and providing the state's residents with patient-centered medical homes.