Projections of Primary Care Doctor Shortage Might Be Overstated
Forecasts of a primary care physician shortage might be "overestimated" if the projections are based on traditional doctor-to-general population ratios, which fail to account for a modern medical facility's ability to provide care to larger numbers of patients with fewer physicians, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs, Modern Physician reports.
Researchers at Columbia Business School in New York and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School reported that traditional ratios -- such as one primary physician for every 2,500 patients -- erroneously assume that a majority of patients still are being treated by a single physician.
According to the study, modern medical facilities are able to stretch the doctor-to-patient ratio in several ways to avert a shortage by:
- "Pooling" physicians, a strategy that groups two or three physicians who use a common electronic health record system with a nonphysician professional;
- Reducing the need for in-person visits by encouraging practitioners to use electronic communication technologies with patients; or
- Directing certain patients to qualified nonphysician professionals, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
The researchers acknowledged that deploying the "pooling" strategy or diverting patients to nonphysician professionals could hinder continuity of care, but they said that the loss of continuity would be greater if patients opt to visit a hospital emergency department for primary care (Robeznieks, Modern Physician, 1/8).
Another study published in the same issue of Health Affairs recommended that the federal government direct more funds toward areas with physician shortages and that the system for providing such funds be reformed (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 1/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.