If you need a local primary care physician, Sacramento Heart and Vascular in Placerville may be your next call. Despite the name, this well-known cardiology care provider maintains an active family medicine practice at its Hangtown facility, near the Marshall Medical Center.
There, Dr. Matthew Watson is the full-time internal medicine physician. Once per week he shares the patient load with Dr. Leanne Camisa, the visiting primary care physician from the Sacramento headquarters. They are assisted by an experienced staff of two nurse practitioners, two medical assistants and a patient reception staffer.
Primary care, family medicine and internal medicine all refer to “first contact” non-emergency care. Outpatient physicians such as Dr. Watson and Dr. Camisa do not typically work in a hospital environment or admit anyone to a hospital but see patients in an office setting only.
“High blood pressure, anxiety, aches of the head, back, knee, unexplained diarrhea or obesity-related problems are common complaints among our visitors,” said Dr. Watson. “This year half of our patient load is sinus infections and upper respiratory illness because of the heavier onset flu season. We also see patients with skin conditions, bumps, lumps, tumors or rashes. We screen for cancer of course, and send suspicious tissue to the lab for analysis. Depending on the lab report, we refer to an oncologist.”
He said upbeat, “Patients need to know there are many good outcomes to a cancer diagnosis these days, especially if it is detected early.”
In addition to his Medical Doctorate from Columbia, Dr. Watson also earned a masters degree in Public Health from the same school. That course of study has been invaluable, he explained, both here and in his earlier four year practice in Jackson. Among other protocols, it lends itself to dealing with issues of public contagion and epidemiology.
After Dr. Watson completed his residency at the Cambridge Health Alliance (Harvard Teaching Hospital), he moved back to Northern California and began serving underrepresented populations, including American Indians. Part of that commitment was contractual — his medical education was underwritten by the Indian Health Service, part of the Federal Government’s Health and Human Services. With that four-year contract up in 2013, Dr. Watson joined Sacramento Heart.
Dr. Watson’s move to Placerville allows him to be a people’s doctor while having a real home life with wife Bonnie whom he met in the masters of public health program. She is also a health care expert specializing in children’s obesity. The couple has one child.
Although he has been with Sacramento Heart less than a year, the physician has already made a difference in the community merely by his interest and willingness to serve as a rural family doctor.
“There is a declining population of us, I’m afraid,” he said. “Family medicine doctors are retiring in the face of uncertainty from insurance companies and other interests.”
His observation is spot-on according to media studies, where the issue has been trumpeted for at least 10 years. The U.S. Rural Health Research Agency recently reported, “The crisis posed by the persistent shortage of providers in rural areas of the United States is being exacerbated by the precipitous decline in student interest in the field of family medicine.”
Dr. Watson notes solutions to this threat are constantly debated. Physicians can be imported from overseas, more nurse practitioners and medical assistants can be recruited and trained. Diagnostic technology is making huge strides. Electronic medical record systems combined with digital imagery can permit medical specialists anywhere in the world to simultaneously consult on a case.
Many experienced doctors increasingly seek alternative approaches to their public practice of medicine including the “concierge” arrangement, whereby patients willingly pay a monthly fee, and are thus able to consult with the physician, usually the same day, without regard to the length of visit. Preventative medicine is a feature of concierge medicine.
“No one knows the final contours of the national healthcare program,” said Dr. Watson, “but it’s safe to say the medical community is figuring out how all the moving pieces will ultimately fit.”
There are other innovations popping up on the doctor-patient horizon, but Dr. Watson himself prefers the traditional way of seeing patients. He studies their charts on his own time, so the visit is not consumed by paperwork analysis. He likes to talk things over. He listens.
“No single strategy is the whole answer,” he reflected, “but I suppose each idea takes an edge off the load.”
Meanwhile Dr. Camisa treks to Placerville every Thursday to see patients in the family medicine category. The doctor received her MD from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in 1995. She interned and performed residency at the Sutter Family Practice Residency Program, a UC Davis-affiliated program.
The internal medicine department of Sacramento Heart has not replaced their better known cardiology department, but widens the organization’s scope of patient care. As always, once a week the Placerville facility is visited by the renown Cardiologist Dr. Philip Bach, Sacramento Heart’s Managing Partner, to explore concerns with local patients about matters cardio. His Placerville schedule is always full.
Beside Dr. Watson and Dr. Camisa, the facility located at 3105 Cedar Ravine Road, Suite 103, includes Licensed Vocational Nurse Tara White, Nurse Practitioners Lee Rea and Teresa Levinson, Medical Assistants Cristie Jones and Jay Rotz, and Patient Coordinator Dorothy Raisbeck-Creason. The facility is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 530-295-1900, or visit the Website at SacHeart.com.