Study:Lower pay threatens PCP supply

The number of U.S. medical students choosing primary care work is falling like a stone, largely because primary care doctors make so much less than specialists do, according to a new study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The study offers a similar cautionary note as a PCP study released last year by the American College of Physicians (ACP). The ACP found that the number of internal medicine trainees planning on PCP work fell from 54 percent in 1998 to 25 percent in 2004.

Among the conclusions of the UCSF study, which was published yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was that specialists are earning almost twice as much as PCPs, even if they work the same number of hours. The gap is largely caused, surprisingly enough, by health plans. Despite their frugality, health plans often pay specialists doing routine procedures two-and-a-half to three times the amount a PCP would get to treat a complicated patient. The result is an "impending crisis" in access to primary care, said study lead author Thomas Bodenheimer, M.D., MPH, a UCSF professor of family and community medicine.

To learn more about the study results:
- read this piece in the San Francisco Business Times

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