The recent urging by UVM Medical Center’s overwhelmed ER that patients seek treatment elsewhere largely reflects the shortage of primary care. You cannot resolve routine problems and complaints with your primary care clinician if you do not have one — and there are massive waiting lists to get one.

Primary care has become an unpopular field with strenuous working conditions. Electronic medical records waste hours each day clicking boxes to maximize reimbursement for clinicians’ employers and to satisfy “quality measures” for various programs. It contributes little to care while taking precious time away from face-to-face interaction with patients.

Those of us who chose primary care years ago did so because we loved taking care of patients and developing long-term relationships, a necessary ingredient of high-quality care. That joy is now largely gone. Primary care doctors now retire earlier. Nurse practitioners seem to come and go, most staying a year or so. Patients are left in the lurch.

Many of us have been warning about this for years. More and more ERs will be telling patients with non-urgent complaints to “go home” or “walk it off” unless we start building a real health care system that includes everyone, has adequate public funding and reduces the administrative hassle imposed on health care clinicians.

Let’s start with primary care, the most important health care sector. This will both lower overall costs and improve the quality of care, making primary care an attractive field once again.

Everyone needs and deserves a primary care clinician.

Deborah Richter, M.D.