HIT Adds Up to Large Reduction in Physician Demand

The physician shortage is expected to reach more than 90,000 by 2020, but expanding HIT could reduce the demand for in-person physician care and ease the effects of the shortage.

It’s clear that health information technology and electronic health applications are becoming more prevalent in the health care industry and these technologies can be used to address the coming physician shortage, according to a new study.

The physician shortage is expected to reach more than 90,000 by 2020, but expanding HIT could reduce the demand for in-person physician care and ease the effects of the shortage.

“The Impact of Health Information Technology and e-Health on the Future Demand for Physician Services” by Jonathan P. Weiner, Susan Yeh and David Blumenthal was published in the November issue of Health Affairs.

The authors estimated that if HIT were fully implemented in just 30% of community-based physicians’ offices, then physician demand could be reduced by at least 4% and up to 9%. They also estimated that if specialists could delegate to generalists via HIT, then the demand for specialists would be reduced by 2% to 5%.

“These estimated impacts could more than double if comprehensive health IT systems were adopted by 70% of U.S. ambulatory care delivery settings,” the authors wrote. “Future predictions of physician supply adequacy should take these likely changes into account.”

Regionally, shortages of physicians vary across the U.S. with rural areas already facing physician shortages while urban areas fare much better. The authors wrote that the use of HIT could potentially enable 12% of care “to be delivered remotely or asynchronously,” which would help address regional physician shortages.

The authors estimate that 15% to 20% of services could be handled with patients emailing physicians or simply access health information remotely. Overall, this means a 19% drop in demand.

For each of the suggested HIT solutions the decreases in physician demand may be fairly modest, but they add up, Weiner pointed out in an interview with Becker’s Hospital Review.

"It goes to show we can't resolve all the challenges in health care by just adding more doctors," he told Becker’s. "We need to explore other ways of making the health care system better."