Children's docs avoid rural, low income areas

Despite ample pediatricians or family doctors in the U.S., many kids continue to go without care due to lack of an available doctor in their region, according to a study published this week in the journal Pediatrics. The reason? Money, of course. Children's doctors tend to gravitate toward more populous and affluent areas rather than setting up shop in low-income, rural regions, mainly because of dwindling Medicaid reimbursements and lacking incentives. 

"Most states are in fiscal crisis," Dr. Roland Goertz, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told the Associated Press. "Without resources, it's going to be tough to turn it around." 

Overall, the number of pediatricians and family doctors increased by 51 percent and 35 percent, respectively, in the decade from 1996 to 2006. Over that same time span, the number of children rose roughly 9 percent, so there should have been enough doctors to go around. 

Instead, states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma--all low-supply, high-demand regions--have suffered. Each of those states is home to several areas where the ratio of children to available doctors has climbed to more than 3,000-to-1. Meanwhile, places like Washington, D.C., and Delaware see an abundance of such physicians. 

"I worry that it could get worse," lead author Dr. Scott Shipman told the AP

While loan forgiveness programs have started to become more prevalent in recent years, it's too soon to tell what their effect on such statistics will be, reports the AP

Such efforts, however, can't come soon enough, the study's authors believe. 

"[A]lmost 1 million children lived in areas with no local child physician," they write. "Nearly all 50 states had evidence of similar extremes of physician maldistribution." 

To learn more:
- read this Associated Press article
- here's the study's abstract in Pediatrics

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