Academic Achievement: How to Ensure Your Child’s Success

Parents & Kids Magazine
May 2011

View original article here.

My husband and I became first time parents last summer. Watching our son grow from a tiny, helpless newborn to an active infant has been an amazing experience. As first time parents, every milestone is a big deal. The first time our son slept through the night, rolled over, sat up, made a noise, we called the entire family to share our delight. According to all the parenting magazines and books I’ve read, he is progressing as a normal infant should. But because he’s our child, we like to end every conversation with, “He’s advanced.”

Every proud parent believes their child is the smartest, the cutest, most well behaved, and the best at everything their child does. However, most children inevitably are going to have areas of weakness where they struggle or have to work harder – particularly in the academic arena. Academic success is important in a child’s life as it plays a major role in shaping their future. As your child progresses through elementary school, middle school, and finally high school, certain academic benchmarks will help determine if your child is making the grade or falling behind.

Is Your Child Kindergarten Ready?

Most school districts require a child be at least five-years old by a certain date before admitting them into kindergarten. If your child has a summer birthday, you may want to evaluate whether he or she is ready for kindergarten or would benefit from waiting another year. A child entering kindergarten should be able to communicate orally, be able to take care of their personal belongings, and use the restroom by themselves. Other key areas to evaluate are whether your child can listen to and follow directions, whether they have a rudimentary familiarity with the alphabet and numbers, and if they possess the motor skills required to hold a pencil and cut with scissors. Since your child is going to be in a classroom all day, they should also be able to get along with others, know how to take turns, and work with a group.

Early Elementary School (Grades K-3)

Early in their academic career, your child’s teacher will focus on learning to recognize, name, and print the alphabet. As they progress, they will begin to shift to phonics – connecting letters to sounds – and comprehension. They will also be introduced to counting, patterns, shapes, and sizes and be able to recognize and understand that numbers signify quantity, order and measurement. By the end of first grade, your child should have an understanding of basic addition, subtraction and place values. Second grade focuses on increasing writing skills with an emphasis on spelling and punctuation as well as an understanding of what they are reading. By the time your child completes third grade, they should have moved from learning to read and write to reading to learn and writing to communicate. They should also have an understanding of early multiplication, fractions, and decimals and be able to work independently. Socially, this is when friendships begin to bud. Children should be able to successfully play with other others and be aware of how their actions affect their playmates.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-5)

Now that your child has mastered basic reading skills, he or she will be encouraged to read with more speed and efficiency. You may notice an increase in their vocabulary as well as improvements in their reading comprehension. Expect book reports complete with an emphasis on the writing process –outlines, rough drafts, etc. By now they will be expected to add and subtract larger numbers as well as multiplication, long division, and basic geometry.

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

In middle school, teachers view their students as young adults. Responsibilities will increase in addition to the workload. By the time your child completes the eighth grade, they should have a solid foundation in reading and math that they can build on when faced with more challenging high school courses. At a minimum, they should be able to do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as have the ability to use a protractor, ruler and calculator. They should also be able to read at grade level, write legibly, and construct a simple paragraph that includes a topic sentence, supporting sentences and correct punctuation. If your child excels in situations that challenge him or her academically, they should be able to transition to high school with little problem.

Obviously, your level of involvement with your child’s education will change as they get older and learn to become more independent. As your child enters their high school years, it is important that you continue to stay informed about his or her performance in school. Stay connected with them and keep in contact with teachers and school counselors to ensure they stay on track.

What Should I do If My Child Is Falling Behind?

A child struggling in school will often give off social cues long before you receive a phone call from their teacher. Have you noticed a negative change in behavior? Are they suddenly uninterested in activities they used to enjoy? Other warning signs include hesitancy to talk about school or homework assignments.

If you think your child is falling behind, first gage what you are basing your opinion on. Is your child falling behind based on the school’s curriculum or are they just learning at a slower rate than someone else’s child? Every child learns at a different rate and will have their own individual set of strengths where they excel and weaknesses where they will have to put forth more effort.

“People learn in different ways,” says David Elkin, Ph.D., ABPP; Associate Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at University of Mississippi Medical Center. “The vast majority of school and teachers want to help kids learn, and most schools find it very helpful to have a detailed report on a child’s learning style so they can do all they can for that child. Some kids learn better visually, while others learn better auditorially or verbally.”

Second, determine where the problem is. More times than not, a problem can be pinpointed to a particular class or subject. Arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher and together you may be able to come up with a plan of action to help them get back on track. Your child may also need additional help outside of school hours, such as hiring a tutor. Finally, make sure to keep tabs on homework assignments. Find out if your child’s school has a homework hotline or website to help you monitor assignments and due dates.

“The best thing a parent can do to improve the chances for academic success in their child is to provide an environment where consistency and predictability are standard and reading is encouraged,” Elkin adds. “Turn off the TV. Encourage children to read every day. Don’t forget social, creative, and unstructured play – one of the best things a parent can say to their child is ‘Go outside!’ They may end up staring at the clouds, they may climb a tree, or playing with the neighborhood kids. But parents don’t need to feel that their main job is to provide a guaranteed and structured learning environment for their kids at all times. Kids need a chance to be kids.”

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Ocean Springs teen triumphs over near-fatal traumatic brain injury

Methodist Rehabilitation Center
December 21, 2009

2009 was to be the year that Karen and Paul Hasley said good-bye to worried vigils in hospital waiting rooms.

Their son Shane had endured the last of 10 surgeries to correct his congenitally deformed feet, and life was looking up for the outgoing Ocean Springs High School senior.

Then came the Feb. 24 phone call that sent the couple rushing to Ocean Springs Hospital. The 18-year-old had flipped his truck and suffered a life-threatening brain injury.

Preliminary tests revealed little or no activity in both frontal lobes of the brain, and doctors doubted Shane could survive. But his parents refused to give up hope.

“I leaned down and whispered in his ear, ‘Shane, you are going to have to fight harder than you’ve ever fought in your entire life,’ ” remembers Karen.

“Take a seat,” Paul told the doctors. “You are about to witness a miracle.”

Today, the Hasleys are in awe of the progress their son has made. After months of therapy at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, Shane is taking high school courses at home. He hopes to be back in the classroom come fall.

“I will never tell anyone there is no such thing as miracles,” Karen says. “If we had not made the trip to Methodist … I think he would have been bedridden for the rest of his life.”

Shane is used to overcoming the odds. He underwent his first surgery at age 6 months, and his mom says: “He never wanted help from anybody.”

But even she worried whether her son had the resiliency to face a post-accident setback that was particularly heartbreaking. While Shane was still unconscious, medication used to regulate his blood pressure collapsed blood vessels in his left foot. Doctors had no choice but to amputate.

“That was very difficult,” recalls Karen. “After everything he has been through – to lose that left leg. But it came down to his life or the limb.”

When Shane transferred to Methodist Rehab on May 26, he arrived unable to sit up on his own, and he had a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. The normally talkative teen also had not spoken in three months.

“When they asked me what my goal was for him, I told them, ‘I just want to hear his voice,’” Karen said. “He has never met a stranger. To go from being so outgoing to not talking, it was so strange.”

Dr. Zoraya Parrilla, medical director of Methodist Rehab’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program, evaluated Shane and decided to administer Amantadine, a psycho-stimulant medication that can increase brain activity.

“Amantadine is a powerful stimulant and it’s my first choice in cases like Shane’s where a patient is minimally conscious,” Dr. Parrilla said. “I could see a strong correlation between the time when the agent was initially given and the time when Shane responded. The results in this case were remarkable.”

After almost three weeks, Shane still appeared unresponsive and physical therapist, Katie Daniels, had to push hard to draw any kind of response.

“Shane always wore a hat,” explained Daniels. “One afternoon, I took his hat and put it over his face. I told him, ‘Shane, if you don’t like this then you need to do something about it.’”

Daniels watched as Shane reached up, grabbed the hat, and replaced it on his head. It was the breakthrough everyone had been praying for. “That was when I knew we were finally reaching him,” Daniels said.

Soon after, Karen began to notice small improvements in her son every day. One afternoon, a therapist informed Karen that she needed to come to the therapy room right away. “I was nervous,” she remembers. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

When Karen walked into the room, she overheard speech therapist Holly Radicioni ask, “Shane, what is your mother’s name?”

“Mom,” he replied.

“What is your father’s name?”

“Dad.”

Two months prior to his accident, the family adopted a new puppy. Since the accident affected much of Shane’s short-term memory, Karen was curious if he remembered the dog’s name. “I leaned over to Holly and said, ‘Ask him what the dog’s name is.’”

Without hesitation, Shane replied, “Desiree.”

“I lost it at that point,” his mom recalls. “He was back. And once he started talking, he had three months of silence to make up for.”

Shane is now able to breathe and eat on his own. He has also received a prosthetic leg from Methodist Orthotics & Prosthetics and is undergoing intense physical therapy to build up his strength so that he can progress to getting around with a walker.

It will be a long, hard road, but Shane remains optimistic about the future. He is working on completing his school curriculum and hopes to graduate from Ocean Springs High School next year.

“When this is all over,” he says, “I want to become a professional fisherman or a game warden.”

Genetic Testing Gives Women Options in Breast Cancer Treatment

Healthy Cells Magazine
October 2009

          No woman ever wants to learn that she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  But for thousands of women whose family medical history includes one or more relatives with the disease, the likelihood of developing breast cancer is a scary reality.  These high-risk women are two-to-five times more likely to develop the disease than women with no family history.  In the past, many of these women felt the situation was out of their hands.  However, today genetic testing has given them a proactive option to managing their health.

            Every year, nearly 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer.  A very small percentage of these cases are known to be hereditary.  However, of the patients who do have hereditary breast cancer, 84% have been found to carry mutations in two genes known as breast cancer 1, early onset (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2, early onset (BRCA2).  Both genes are known as tumor suppressor genes, meaning they prevent cells from growing and dividing too rapidly.

            There are several risk factors that may indicate a BRCA gene mutation such as having a personal or family history of breast cancer diagnosed at a young age, history of breast cancer occurring in more than one generation, having a male relative with breast cancer, having a family member that has both breast and ovarian cancer, or having a family member with the BRCA mutation.  People with Eastern European or Jewish ancestry are also likely carriers. 

            A simple blood test can determine if a patient is a carrier.  Results are usually ready in 2-3 weeks.  A positive result does not mean that the patient has cancer.  Nor does it mean that they will in fact develop breast cancer.  But it does carry some significant risks.  “It’s a small number of patients that have breast cancer related inheritance, but if you have the mutation the risk of getting breast cancer is substantial,” says William Whitehead, surgeon with Hattiesburg Clinic.  “Eighty-seven percent of women before the age of 70 will get breast cancer if they’ve got the mutation.  Forty-four percent of women will have ovarian cancer if they have that mutation.  The risk of getting breast cancer in the opposite breast in the average patient is somewhere around 10-12% if they reach the age of 70.  But if you’ve got the mutation, it’s 10 times that.”

              Many patients may be apprehensive about the test because they are unsure of the next step should the results come back positive.  Dr. Whitehead suggests three options – surveillance, chemo prevention, or prophylactic surgery.  “If you are BRAC1 or 2 positive, you qualify with most insurance companies for a screening breast MRI after the age of 25.  Oncologists recommend one yearly after that,” said Dr. Whitehead. If cancer symptoms do appear, regular surveillance may be able to catch the disease during early stages and increase a patient’s chance for survival.  Hattiesburg Clinic’s Breast Center currently houses Mississippi’s only dedicated breast MRI and was recently named the state’s only Breast Imaging Center of Excellence. 

            Chemo prevention involves taking an anti-estrogen drug, such Tamoxifen, to reduce a patient’s risk of developing the disease.  A recent study conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that high risk women without cancer who took Tamoxifen for 4-5 years decreased their chances of developing breast cancer by 45%.  Although taking Tamoxifen does have some associated side effects, many physicians agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

            The most extreme option is prophylactic surgery.  Actress Christina Applegate opted to undergo a double mastectomy in 2008 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  Applegate had a family history of breast cancer and was also found to be a carrier of the BRCA 1 mutation.  After her surgery, Applegate announced that she was completely cancer-free.  “I had a patient whose mother and grandmother both had breast cancer,” relates Whitehead.  “Her mother’s disease had manifested itself in an advanced form of cancer in which she lost the battle; this patient didn’t want to take that risk.  If this is the option a patient wants to take, we can now perform immediate reconstruction.  This may help relieve the anxiety for those patients who have an unusually high risk for breast cancer.” 

            Even if patients have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, they may still want to consider having the test.  “Carriers of the gene have a 50% chance of passing it to their children and 25% chance of passing it to their grandchildren,” says Dr. Whitehead.  “I had a patient recently who had breast cancer and wanted the test.  She said that she wanted to do this for her sister, her daughters and granddaughters.”

            BRCA testing is available through Hattiesburg Clinic without a referral.  While most insurance carriers may provide coverage if a patient is deemed high-risk, it is still a good idea to talk to your insurance carrier about your individual policy.  For more information on BRCA testing, contact Hattiesburg Clinic department of surgery at 601-268-5660 or log onto www.hattiesburgclinic.com.

Surgery Offers Patients with Epilepsy a Second Chance at Life

Hattiesburg Clinic Digest, 2009

Kristin Lape entered her senior year at Mississippi State University with great expectations for the future – graduation, embarking on an exciting new career, and undergoing an operation that could change her life.  Lape, like over 3 million other Americans, suffered from epilepsy.

Lape experienced her first epileptic seizure at two years old.  By her senior year of college, she was having several episodes a day.  She was taking the usual round of anti-seizure medications; however, they were doing little to adequately control the disorder.  Lape’s mother voiced her concerns to a friend who in turn referred her to the neurology department at Hattiesburg Clinic.  Lape and her mother made an appointment to meet with Hattiesburg Clinic neurologist Dr. Wendell Helveston.

 “I still remember the day I walked into Dr. Helveston’s office,” recalls Lape.  “I was expecting him to either change my medication or increase my medication.  Dr. Helveston had been studying my medical files.  He said, ‘Kristin, we’ve got to get you fixed.  You are about to graduate from college.  You’re about to go out into the real world.  I think you would be a good candidate for surgery.’”  Dr. Helveston’s news came as both a shock and as a relief.  “I cried,” she says.  “I never had a doctor who pursued helping me that much.”    

Lape was admitted to Forrest General Hospital for preliminary testing.  With the use of an electroencephalogram (EEG), her electrical brain activity was measured to pinpoint the exact location in the brain that the seizures were originating from.  She was then referred to University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for surgery.  Lape was wheeled into the operating room in December of 2006.  She has been seizure free for over a year. 

Before undergoing surgery, Lape describes herself as feeling, “tired a lot, lethargic, and drained.”  Since her surgery she has more energy and is able to be more active than she ever through she would.  Says Lape, “I recently went to a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert and it was amazing. Without my surgery, I know for a fact I would have had seizures within the first song. The light show was amazing, and it was great for me to be able to experience a concert without worrying about having seizures and not enjoy it.  That was a true test of the results of my surgery.”

Lape graduated from Mississippi State in May 2007 and is currently working as a graphic designer for Mojoloco, LLC in Brandon, Miss.  Although epilepsy no longer affects her life the way it used to, she has not forgotten that millions of Americans still live with the disorder everyday.  Last fall, Lape and the staff of Mojoloco volunteered their talents to help out the Epilepsy Foundation of Mississippi with their annual fundraising event.  They produced all the collateral materials and organized a team to walk the streets of Jackson on the day of the event to promote the fundraiser.  Lape received special recognition by the Epilepsy Foundation for her work.  Plans are underway to volunteer for this year’s annual event.  “It’s very rewarding to know that I am able to make a difference in people’s lives that are struggling with epilepsy just as I did,” Lape adds.  “I feel blessed to be able to make people aware that you don’t have to live with it for the rest of your life. Instead of being treated, it can be cured.” 

 

 

Screening Key to Detecting Early Childhood Hearing Loss

Prentiss Headlight, 6/17/2009

          Most of us associate hearing loss with getting older. We assume as we age that becoming “hard of hearing” comes with the territory.  However, many of us may not consider the effects of hearing loss in our younger generations, notably in newborns infants and young children.

            Hearing and speech are essential tools for normal child development.  Without these a child can grow up to have problems with speech and language development, experience isolation and social problems, and have academic difficulties.  The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) estimates that 1-6 out of every 1,000 newborns are born with some degree of congenital hearing loss.  This implies that hearing loss was present at birth.  At least half of these cases are attributed to heredity.  However other factors such as contracting an infection while in the womb, complications associated with the Rh factor in the blood, prematurity, maternal diabetes, toxemia, and lack of oxygen can also contribute to congenital hearing loss. 

          Early detection plays a significant role in combating problems that may arise later on.  In Mississippi, every newborn is required to undergo an ALGO hearing test before they are discharged from the hospital.  The ALGO test is a basic screening tool to detect congenital hearing loss.  If an infant passes the ALGO test, it is assumed that their hearing is normal.  However, if the test results come back abnormal, further testing may need to be done.

          “If an infant fails the test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their hearing is abnormal.  It just means it needs to be verified with more in depth testing,” says John Sobiesk, MD, otolaryngologist with Hattiesburg Clinic’s Ear, Nose, and Throat Associates.  “We have two measures with which to verify our findings.  One test is called the ABR [auditory brainstem response] and the other is known as otoacoustic emissions [OAE].”

          ABR testing involves the use of electrodes to measure an infant’s brainwaves.  The electrodes are taped to the infant’s head and a series of clicking noises are made through a set of headphones in the baby’s ear.  A computer records the amount of time it takes for the brain to register the sound.  The clicks are presented at varying frequencies to determine the lowest volume the baby can hear.  The entire test takes about 15 minutes.  If the waveforms appear normal, the baby is considered to have normal hearing.  If they are abnormal, the physician may repeat the test or conduct an OAE to confirm their findings.

          During OAE testing, a small microphone is placed in the infant’s ear.  “There is an imperceptible sound generated by the nerve cells in the ear when we give the ear a clear sound,” explains Sobiesk.  “What we are looking for is a reflection of sound that will be given back from the ear.  In a person with a normal functioning ear, when I present sound in their ear, the ear will reflect an emission which I can register with a small microphone.”  The test takes about 6-8 minutes to complete.  It is very important that the infant is resting quietly while both tests are being conducted since noise or movement can skew the results.

          Even if an infant is determined to have normal hearing at birth, ear infections, damage to the auditory system, viruses, head injuries, and excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss as the child gets older.  Both the ABR and OAE test are useful in measuring hearing loss in older children and can be performed without a physician’s referral.

          If the infant fails both tests, a complete evaluation will be done to determine if the child has partial or total hearing loss, if they need to be fitted with hearing aids, and if the use of a speech language pathologist will be helpful in the development of the child’s speech, language, and cognitive communication.

          “Early intervention is essential for children.  An experienced speech language pathologist can evaluate the child’s speech and language development, and design a treatment plan based on the child’s individual needs,” said Martha Woodall, M.S., CCC/SLP, Speech Language Pathologist and Director of Education at Hattiesburg Clinic’s Connections.  “Children begin to learn language very early in life.  As they grow and develop, their language skills become increasingly more complex.  They learn to comprehend and use language to acquire knowledge and to communicate effectively with others.”

          For more information on infant hearing tests, please contact Hattiesburg Clinic Ear, Nose, and Throat Associates at 601-579-3310 or Ear, Nose, and Throat Associates – Lucedale at 601-947-9187.  For more information on speech pathology services, please contact Hattiesburg Clinic Connections at 601-261-5159.

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Hattiesburg Clinic Neurosurgeon Shares Experiences of Life in War Zone

Feature story printed in:

Clarion Ledger, 8/11/2008
Hattiesburg American, 8/11/2008    

Original release printed in:
Lamar Times, 6/19/2008
Prentiss Headlight, 6/11/2008
Richton Dispatch, 6/12/2008

          For the average working American, our morning routines may consist of putting on a uniform or a suit and tie and grabbing that first cup of coffee before getting in our cars and driving to work.  However for the last three months, Dr. Richard Clatterbuck’s morning routine consisted of strapping on his army-issued rifle and grabbing a few rounds of ammunition before heading off to surgery. 

          Clatterbuck, a neurosurgeon at Hattiesburg Clinic and army reservist, spent 90 days on loan to the 332 Expeditionary Medical Group from Task Force 261 Spearhead Medics.  As part of this expeditionary medical group, Clatterbuck was assigned to the Air Force Theatre Hospital in Balad, Iraq.  “A lot of the military medical operations that are happening now are a collaboration between people,” explains Clatterbuck.  “The Air Force doesn’t have enough neurosurgeons and the Air Force hospital needed neurosurgical expertise.  The Army put neurosurgeons there as part of a cooperative function.” 

          Clatterbuck received the call last summer that he would be going overseas.  Like any solider leaving behind a life and family to serve their country, he had his concerns.    “The first thing I worried about was my wife,” he says.  “And then I worried about having to leave the practice.  My partners would have to pick up the calls and cover my patients.”  However, Clatterbuck says he didn’t spend much time worrying about the dangers he could face when he finally touched down.  “There is certainly some anxiety and concern about going to a combat zone.  But quite honestly, I didn’t lose any sleep worrying about that part.  It’s not the same kind of sacrifice as people who are out there on the frontlines.”

          Before Clatterbuck touched down in Iraq, he had to go through 10 days of conditioning and training to prepare him for life in the desert.  His training consisted of becoming familiar with the Iraqi culture in addition to weapons training and how to recognize exploding devices.  After a week of intense training stateside, Clatterbuck was sent to Kuwait for three days for more weapons training before being sent to Iraq. 

          Clatterbuck describes life in an Iraqi operating room as “brief episodes of sheer terror and adrenaline punctuated by periods of boredom.”  Being fairly close to the battlegrounds, he experienced a few rocket attacks that exploded less than 150 yards from the hospital.  He attributes some of his most memorable experiences to saving the lives of a few severely injured Iraqi children.  “There were a couple of kids who came in with bad head injuries and looked like they were going to die who walked out of the hospital a couple weeks later.”  However, Clatterbuck also adds, “Day in and day out it was just being a neurosurgeon much like being a neurosurgeon over here.  A lot of what I did was very routine kind of stuff and sometimes you were just sitting around waiting for something to happen.” 

          Overall, Clatterbuck describes the area where he was stationed at as being comfortable.  “I had air conditioning.  I had Armed Forces Network Cable television so I could see football games, basketball games, baseball games, American Idol, whatever was on TV,” he says.  “There was a Burger King there, a Popeye’s Fried Chicken, a Taco Bell, and a Subway. They did what they could to make it as pleasant as it could be.”  But three months away from your family and friends can make even the most seasoned solider long for home.  “I missed seeing grass and water because there was none of that.  We had very few trees and we didn’t have much rain.”   Clatterbuck also longed from some good old Mississippi gulf coast seafood.  “When I first got back to Hattiesburg the very same day I went and had some oysters.  I was dying to have some catfish and have some oysters.” 

          When asked to sum up his experience Clatterbuck says, “I am very glad I went.  I’m very proud of serving my country.  Medical personnel are something the military desperately needs – there are not enough well-trained surgeons to support the mission.    At the same time, seeing all those people coming in with such severe injuries is not a pleasant experience as a surgeon.  Things are better than they were but it’s still very difficult for the people who live there.  But if they called and told me I needed to go back again I would.” 

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Primary Care Providers Key to Healthy America

Featured in Stone County Enterprise, 3/18/2009 

          The United States prides itself on being a leader in advanced medical technology.  Our country houses many the best medical schools, specialty care dominates our system, and we have managed to inoculate ourselves from several serious life-threatening diseases that still continue to kill people in third-world countries every day.  However, you may be surprised to learn that in comparison with other developed countries, America’s health is relatively poor.  The average life expectancy for both men and women in the United States is significantly lower than those in Europe, despite the fact that American’s smoke and drink less than their European counterparts.  Even higher income citizens with access to adequate health coverage still have lower life expectancies.  One key fact that may be contributing to this dilemma – more and more Americans are choosing to bypass primary care providers and instead opting to self-diagnose and self-refer to medical specialists.

            A primary care provider (PCP) is a practitioner that is trained to diagnose and treat minor injuries and illnesses, manage long-term chronic illnesses, and determine when a patient’s condition warrants seeing a specialist.  These include Internists, Family Practice Physicians, Pediatricians, Obstetrics & Gynecology Physicians, and Nurse Practitioners.  PCP’s are often referred to as “gatekeepers” to your health plan.  PCP’s know your family history, what prescriptions you are taking, and previous and current medical conditions.  By taking all these factors into consideration, they are often better able to provide a more appropriate treatment plan.  “As patients get older, they need to have someone to coordinate their care.  They need someone who is looking out for the entire person rather than just each specific disease that they might see a specialist for,” says Brian Batson, MD, internal medicine physician and director of the Hattiesburg Clinic Hypertension Center of Excellence.  “As our population ages, we have a lot more people that are Medicare-age patients.   Even though they may have a heart doctor and a blood pressure doctor and a kidney doctor, they always need to maintain that ongoing relationship with a primary care doctor.”  While establishing that relationship with a PCP is crucial for older patients, it is equally important that younger patients do so as well.  “Patients need to establish a relationship before they are on Medicare.  They need to establish it when they are in their 30’s and 40’s so we can prevent these diseases that occur when they do get older,” adds Batson.  “So much of what we do in medicine in younger patients is preventative care.  If we can start the ball rolling at a younger age they may not have all these complications by the time they are older.”

            Establishing a relationship with a PCP early has shown in numerous studies to provide a variety of benefits such as reduced healthcare costs, reduced hospitalization rates, reduced mortality rates, and better quality of care.  Forty-one percent of all specialist referrals are made by the patients themselves.  Of that total, 60% referred themselves to the wrong specialist.  This can result in a gamut of doctor’s visits and tests that may or may not lead to an effective diagnosis and treatment.  According to a recent review conducted by the American College of Physicians (ACP), one PCP per 10,000 patients can reduce inpatient admissions by 5 percent, outpatient visits by another 5%, emergency room visits by 10 percent, and surgeries by 7 percent.  The study also reveals that the United States utilizes primary care less than any other developed country, yet we spend more on healthcare with less effective outcomes.  While medical specialists do play an important role in healthcare, they are often more effective when treatment is orchestrated through a primary care provider. 

            The ACP also cites several studies that indicate an increase in the supply of PCP’s for a geographical area can reduce mortality rates.  According to the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH), both Forrest and Lamar counties have higher physician-to-patient ratios than the statewide average.  Both counties also have a lower mortality rate statewide for the three leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer, stroke, and accidents.

            Hattiesburg Clinic is committed to the health of South Mississippi and employs more than 70 primary care providers.  The Clinic has primary care offices in several locations,  including Hattiesburg, Collins, Columbia, Ellisville, Petal, Picayune, Poplarville, Prentiss, Purvis, Seminary, Sumrall, and Wiggins.  For more information and a complete listing of primary care providers, please log on to http://www.hattiesburgclinic.com.