MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Robert Avery can understand the mindset that sometimes drives people to travel hours away from Alabama's capital city to go to the doctor. But the Chicago native said they're passing by some of the best medical care available as they leave town.
"People don't think much about health care until they get sick," said Avery, a Montgomery oncologist. "When you're not thinking about it, you tend to overlook the local hospitals and clinics."
A new television commercial may help change that.
Avery is one of several area physicians featured in the spot, which will air over the next few weeks. It's meant to spread the word about the types of services and care available here, from robotic surgery to high-tech radiation equipment.
The idea that out-of-town doctors offer superior care doesn't make sense, said Britney Sellers of area planning group Envision 2020, which produced the commercial. Local physicians often trained alongside the ones that people are driving to see in Birmingham or Atlanta, she said.
"Some people who live in rural areas have to drive a long way to see a doctor, but we don't have to do that because of where we live," Sellers said. "That's a privilege."
Aside from major facilities associated with Jackson Hospital and Baptist Health, the area is peppered with private practices and specialists ranging from cardiologists to dermatologists.
The strong connection between local doctors may be an even bigger selling point. Envision 2020 director Lynn Beshear said that's one case in which the city's size works in its favor.
"Because Montgomery is a small city or a large town, it's very personal," Beshear said. "If you need some specialist, chances are really good that your primary care physician is going to be able to pick up the phone and talk to that specialist on a first-name basis."
The commercial highlights that with the slogan, "specialized medicine, special attention."
It's a local health care network with "very few gaps" aside from transplant surgery and complex pediatric surgery, said Wick Many.
He is the regional dean of the University of Alabama Birmingham's medical school branch campus in Montgomery. He's practiced in Dallas, New Orleans and Birmingham, and said tri-county care stacks up well against those larger cities.
"The quality of care that a patient can receive here is very comparable, and in some cases more sensitive to their individual needs," he said. "In a larger, more complicated institution, (patients) sometimes don't feel the empathy for their specific problems that need to be addressed."
The new commercial promoting that approach was carved out of a longer video that's been used as a physician recruitment tool to help bring more doctors here.
That's part of a wide effort by Envision 2020 and health care leaders to bolster the ranks, especially among primary care providers, in an aging population full of older doctors. The primary care need isn't just here — Many said there are fewer internal medicine students across the nation this year than in 1998.
Still, Beshear said there have been some recruitment successes and that the area is becoming an easier sell because of its mix of progress and easy living.
"You have hospitals that serve a population large enough that you can get a (cardiologist) John Jennings to come, but you don't have the headaches of an Atlanta," Beshear said.
Meanwhile, the group's M.D. Connection branch, led by Sellers, has organized a camp to encourage young local students to enter medicine.
Among the teachers at the new medical school in Montgomery will be local physicians such as recently retired surgeon Duncan McRae. In many cases, they'll be teaching locals. Among the 20 students scheduled to arrive at the school next year, there are six people from the tri-county and three are children of local doctors.
Many said that approach is a long-term investment that will pay off in an even stronger local health care network down the road.
"The medical school here in Montgomery will reap benefits, but we won't see anything positive from that for five to 10 years," Many said. "But we've got to start somewhere."
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com