Doctor shortage overestimated

Hospitals can rest easier knowing that the physician shortage may not be as bad as some feared. That's because most projections overestimated the workforce gap by using the traditional ratio of one physician for every 2,500 patients, according to study in this month's Health Affairs.

The current formula ignores how modern medical facilities can stretch the doctor-to-patient ratio to treat more patients with fewer physicians, California Healthline reported.

Rather, projections should consider access, changing patient demographics and new care delivery methods, noted researchers from Columbia Business School in New York and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Hospitals have the potential to ease the shortage through increased use of care teams or "pods," health IT and data-sharing tools, and nonphysician providers, including physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

However, efforts to redistribute primary care residency slots hasn't helped close the workforce gap and largely failed to train more residents in rural areas, according to another Health Affairs study this month.

Still, healthcare organizations stand by the notion they need more physicians.

The industry has been exploring several solutions to the shrinking physician supply, such as implementing new immigration laws to allow more foreign-born physicians, nurses and other medical personnel to work in the United States, eliminating doctor supervision for nonphysicians, and raising the cap for Medicare-funded residency slots.

To learn more:
- here's the Health Affairs study abstracts on the shortage  and residency slots
- read the California Healthline article