A Way to Avert the Physician Shortage?

Laura Joszt

Physicians have been dreading the projected physician shortage for years now. A new report claims that those forecasts may be overestimated; but is the shortage as easy to avert as this research would like to think?

Physicians have been dreading the projected physician shortage for years now and attempting to come up with some sort of solution, but a new report claims that those forecasts may be “overestimated.”

In a report published in Health Affairs, researched at Columbia Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School concluded that estimates for the primary care physician shortage are based off ratios that are too simple.

“These estimates do not consider the impact of such ratios on patients’ ability to get timely access to care,” authors Linda V. Green, Sergei Savin and Yina Lu wrote. “They also do not quantify the impact of changing patient demographics on the demand side and alternative methods of delivering care on the supply side.

One such ratio that has been used in the past is one physician for every 2,500 patients. In their report, the authors explained that they considered access, demographics and changing practice patterns to determine an estimate for the number of primary care physicians needed.

“We show that the implementation of some increasingly popular operational changes in the ways clinicians deliver care — including the use of teams or ‘pods,’ better information technology and sharing of data, and the use of nonphysicians — have the potential to offset completely the increase in demand for physician services while improving access to care, thereby averting a primary care physician shortage,” the authors wrote.

The conclusion provided by the Health Affairs report is likely to be controversial. Modern Healthcare reported that two experts said the physician shortage is very real and they disagreed with the basic premise of the Health Affairs report.

[Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians] disagreed with the Health Affairs report's statement that — if patients are diverted away from doctors through the implementation of care teams or “virtual visits” handled online or over the telephone — “the predicted physician shortage essentially evaporates.”

However, Blackwelder did agree that team-based care was the way to address the projected primary care physician shortage. In fact, his organization had suggested in a report this type of redesign to how physicians provide care.

Read more:

Primary Care Physician Shortages Could Be Eliminated Through Use Of Teams, Nonphysicians, And Electronic Communication — Health Affairs

Projected Doc Shortage is Real, Experts Say — Modern Healthcare