HEALTHCARE LEADER:   Charles N. Larkin, MD
Memphis Medical Society Leader Has Plan for Growth

           At a time when the medical field faces daunting challenges, confidence and courage are required for anyone taking the helm of the Memphis Medical Society and charting a thoughtful course for organized medicine.

Charles Larkin’s belief in the society and its power to provide wise leadership and effect change is evidenced by his commitment as a five-year MMS board member, treasurer and president. His election in January caps a career of service on a series of other local medical boards and committees as well.  A native Memphian, Larkin graduated from Memphis State University and UT Medical School before completing his internship and residency at Navy Regional Medical Center in San Diego.

Larkin identifies several issues arising within the next two years that will affect the practice of medicine locally as well as nationally – including an arguably flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula that may result in potentially massive cuts in Medicare reimbursement for physicians. If so, many doctors will refuse to pick up new Medicare patients, Larkin said.

“Many physicians may have to close their practices because reimbursements are so low and the cuts are so drastic,” he said, “sometimes as much as 26.7 percent cuts in reimbursement to the doctor.”

Although the Affordable Care Act will be providing as many as 30 million additional uninsured individuals with insurance, it fails to adequately identify ways to develop a proportionate increase in the number of providers available to care for them, Larkin points out.  “Many physicians cannot really absorb a significant number of new patients into their practice, regardless of what reimbursement is; it’s just a matter of time and abilities,” he said. “The result would be a negative impact on the quality of medical care being delivered in our country.”


Can the Memphis Medical Society help to meet these challenges?

“My goal with the society is for us to educate ourselves about all the potential issues that we’ll be facing this year, with the SGR problem, with the Affordable Care Act and accountable care organizations that will be developed between physicians and hospitals. The independent payment advisory board – part of the Affordable Care Act – could also potentially cut Medicare payments in the future. 

“If we as a board can learn as much as we possibly can about these issues, then the Medical Society can be a resource for our members as well as the other physicians in the city and the county, providing advice, guidance and, potentially, solutions.” 


Can MMS help with the potential physician shortage?

“We obviously need an increase in the number of primary care physicians.  Most medical students are going into specialties that are perhaps better-paying specialties than primary care because they have such a large debt from medical school.

“There may be ways the Medical Society can work with members who are in the primary care field, bringing University of Tennessee and Le Bonheur residents to their offices to work with doctors to see what it’s truly like to be in the primary care field – and recognize how important it is.”


Is Society membership growing?

“We’ve made some dramatic improvements, and we have had a very good run as far as membership, with a lot of the larger groups providing memberships for their physicians.” (From fiscal year 2011 to 2012, the Society experienced double-digit growth, with a 12 percent increase in membership and 14 percent growth in revenue from members’ dues.) 


Why is membership important? 

“It’s the concept of involvement in organized medicine. Issues that are coming into play will impact all of us: If Medicare cuts happen, then third-party payers are going to pick up on it and cut their rates, so even the general pediatrician may experience reimbursement cuts from third-party payers – it all trickles down.  Membership provides good information about what’s happening and what issues are important to physicians.”  


Where did you start in Memphis medicine?

“I was fortunate enough to get into this group called Pediatrics East – and I was their first partner added in 17 years.  We grew from that four-doctor mix to the 18 that we have now.  I was hired to open their second office in Germantown in 1980 and was actually the first pediatrician to start a practice in Germantown.” 


What’s your most important accomplishment?

“I like to think that I had a positive role in the development of our practice of Pediatrics East. I do consider it an accomplishment that I had some vision to see beyond the moment and consider future expansion. I really feel proud of the foundation that I established here, as well as being elected president of the Medical Society – there haven’t been very many pediatricians among the 135 previous presidents.

“I’ve also been married for 25 years and am very proud of my daughter, who is a fish biologist in Colorado.” 


What special challenges have you faced?

“Whatever the challenges, the rewards I’ve experienced have been great. I’ve seen the development of a vaccine against the hemophilus influenzae. The vaccine has virtually eradicated a common bacterial infection that was responsible for learning disabilities, hearing loss and more in children.  Vaccines have also been responsible for the marked reduction in the incidence of rota virus and streptococcus pneumoniae.” 


What do you do for fun?

“I have played golf since I was 10 years old, and I do enjoy being on the golf course –

 although I don’t have as much time to play as I would like.

“I also enjoy the bare-boat charter trips I’ve taken for about 17 years with four or five guys. We spend the week on the sailboat, serving as our own crew and sailing through the islands of the Caribbean.” 


Advice for other doctors?

“I’m hoping that educating our board is going to be the way to show everyone the value of Medical Society membership – we’re all in this together, and together we can make a difference.”