Physician shortage to hit hospital bottom lines

Hospital executives are challenged to recruit physicians, given their costs and the limits of the labor pool, but their inability to get ahead of the issue may start to hurt their organizations' bottom lines, reported Fortune magazine.

By 2020, the nation will be short by about 91,000 doctors, with half of the deficit in primary care, based on data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. And while medical school enrollments are at an all-time high, the number of residency positions--which are funded by the federal government--has gone mostly unchanged for years.

Hospital executives are becoming concerned about the issue, according to Fortune. "It's not a surprise. We've been talking about (physician) shortages for quite some time," said Mike Alkire, chief operating officer for Premier, which recently published a survey on hospital concerns. "There's pressure on a market that has a small supply, and it's having financial implications."

As a result, more hospitals are turning to extenders, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who provide basic treatment of patients under a physician's supervision. Both positions require a graduate degree. In contrast to the physician shortfall, data from the Health Resource Services Administration shows that by 2020, the number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants is expected to increase by 30 percent and 58 percent, respectively, Fortune reported.

However, the appropriate use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants has raised concerns. A recent study in JAMA Dermatology concluded they may be conducting and billing for procedures they are not actually qualified to perform. But at least one state, New York, recently passed legislation specifically intended to increase the scope of practice for nurse practitioners.

"This is where the creativity comes in," Alkire told Fortune. "Organizations need to figure out how other clinicians step up to fill the gaps so doctors can be more efficient."

To learn more:
- read the Fortune article