Richard Pan, a pediatrician newly elected to the Assembly from Natomas (near Sacramento), was named this week to chair the Assembly select committee on health care work force and access to care. It’s a subject the Democrat knows well, since he worked as the director of the pediatric residency program at UC Davis before winning his Assembly seat in November.
The dearth in physicians and other providers in the state is felt particularly strongly in rural and underserved urban areas, he said. The first step to fixing that, he said, may be to have more training and development of health professionals.
“What we want to try to look at is to find effective ways to deal with geographic maldistribution of providers, and to find and leverage funding to enable people to enter health professions,” Pan said.
With the baby boomers entering their senior years, along with a greater number of Californians needing a primary care provider once health care reform starts in 2014,Â the demand for providers in California is about to soar. Combine that with a current shortage of providers, and a trend among medical graduates to shun primary care and you have a problem of large proportion, Pan said.
There is no simple solution — though there may be some varied, complex and subtle solutions to discover, he said.
“There are a lot of different issues,” Pan said, “so we first want to define some of them. And then we can see what role government can play to fix them. “
For instance, he said, promoting telework might enable the spouses of physicians — and the physician, by extension — to work in an underserved area. Expanding the reach of California’s telehealth initiative might be a huge boon to improving access to specialty care in rural practices. Recruiting provider candidates from rural areas, he said, improves the chances that a provider will return, and settle, in a rural area.
“We can’t legislate everything,” Pan said. “While we can’t change the social dynamic or social trends, we have to make decisions that make sense in that context.”
The answer, he said, is to find solutions that make sense over a long period of time.
“We want people to succeed in practice, and to stay,” he said. “What are other innovative solutions we can find to increase access? Part of the reason to have hearings is to gather best possible information,” he said, “so we can develop the best policy and move forward.”