Modeling tool sheds insight on physician workforce needs

In an effort to predict where the physician shortage will hit the hardest, researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have developed a web-based model to determine how many physicians each region, state and the nation needs.

The FutureDocs Forecasting Tool focuses on the idea of plasticity--that physician specialists have overlapping areas of expertise, the announcement explains.

"It's important to recognize that the national dialogue about physician supply has been narrowly focused until now," said Erin Fraher, Ph.D., leader of the development team at the Program on Health Workforce Research and Policy, part of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"National data on the numbers of physicians needed in various specialties is neither accurate nor useful for workforce planning and policy at the local and state level," he said. "Instead, we need to understand how alternative combinations of physicians and other healthcare providers can provide needed services in a market area."

The tool tracks supply and demand for various specialties down to the local level and factors in variables such as Medicaid expansion, physician retirement rates and changes in the locations of residencies and fellowships for doctors, reports the Charlotte Observer. This model differs from previous ones because of the amount of clinical feedback that it includes--the researchers sought input from practitioners and hospital systems across the country.

Among the findings were that redistribution of providers or that influencing their pathway into practice can provide the nation with the physician workforce it needs.

Experts predict the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will exacerbate physician shortages as previously uninsured patients seek care. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and 24 state hospital associations plan to determine whether that's true.

The ACA has already had an impact on the emergency room (ER). A survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians found use of ERs up since Jan. 1 when the ACA went into effect. Meanwhile, University of Florida researchers have developed a data-driven simulation to explore how various interventions, such as adding another doctor or better bed management, can help ease crowding in the ER.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the Observer article
- find the tool here