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Allegheny County's new physician leader wants to heal the system

Luis Fábregas
| Monday, March 18, 2013, 10:29 a.m.

Unless you need plastic surgery, you probably won't meet Dr. Amelia Pare anytime soon. But this plastic surgeon happens to be the newly appointed president of the Allegheny County Medical Society and you might want to hear what she has to say.

Pare, 46, is the type of physician leader who's looking to change the system for the benefit of patients, not herself. We had a fascinating conversation a few days ago and it quickly became apparent that she's eager to take up pressing issues that make health care such a contentious national topic.

How can you not like someone who says, “The patient should not be in the balance.” Or, “The relation between physician and patient is a sacred one and it should be held at a higher standard.”

Pare mentioned an incident late last year in which patients were left without their obstetricians because the doctors quit UPMC to work for the rival West Penn Allegheny Health System and Highmark. The doctors had a non-compete clause in their contracts with UPMC that prohibited them from telling patients they were going to work somewhere else. Sticking it to patients because of legal minutia struck a chord with Pare.

“Do we find it acceptable that if you call your doctor's office at 32 weeks pregnant they tell you they don't know where your doctor went?” she asked, adding that one of her goals as society president is to work with legislators to stop this from happening.

“If you move, you send your friends an email that gives them your new address,” she noted.

Pare is worried about a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians, which she expects to worsen as the population ages and the Affordable Care Act expands health insurance coverage to millions more people. A recent study predicted our country will require at least 52,000 more family doctors in 2025 to meet growing needs.

Primary care and general surgery doctors are bogged down by administrative tasks such as completing electronic medical records, Pare said. That means less time with patients and more time with the computer or paperwork.

“When the patients are sick, they want to see their doctor,” she said. “Obviously, MedExpress is meeting a consumer demand, but it's not a substitute for a good relationship with your primary care doctor.”

The conversion to electronic medical records, which has been touted by the Obama administration as key to a better health system, has cost Pare's own practice time and money. She's been forced to switch vendors for health records three times.

If that's not bad enough, Pare cautions that new measures such as insurance surcharges on smokers and better access to maternity care will require careful deliberation.

“Unfortunately, if we want to take that bold move and say everybody in this country should have insurance, somebody's going to have to pay,” she said.

I'm willing to bet all of us will pay. Pare is well aware of this and we should be grateful there's fire within her to fight the good fight. If our doctors don't stand up right along with us, we might as well forget about having a health care system that's accessible, affordable and — above all — of high quality.

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or

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