Physician shortage will force smarter resource use

Provisions within the Affordable Care Act are expected to increase the number of primary care doctors in the United States by about 3,000 in the coming decade--a drop in the bucket of the 45,000 or so physicians the country will actually need to care for 32 million newly insured patients, The New York Times reported.

Therefore, even with robust efforts to train more doctors and encourage them to practice primary care, changing the way doctors provide care will be integral to expanding access, according to G. Richard Olds, dean of the new medical school at the University of California, Riverside, a school founded in part to address the region's doctor shortage. "We'll have a 5,000-physician shortage in 10 years, no matter what anybody does," he told the NYT.

To help cope with the demand in California and elsewhere, the healthcare system will be forced to "use the resources that we have smarter," said Mark D. Smith, head of the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation. Such high-level changes might include building more walk-in clinics, allowing nurses to provide more care and encouraging doctors to work in teams, Smith said.

And while some individual doctors will choose not to accept more patients on top of the loads they already have, practices that are struggling financially may be behooved to consider finding ways to expand access, noted a recent article from Medical Economics.

Consultants' suggestions for practices looking to accommodate more patients include triaging patients to the appropriate physician or nonphysician provider, adding group or shared medical appointments for patients with the same chronic condition, extending business hours and adding more clinically appropriate services, such as electrocardiography, for which they can be reimbursed.

To learn more:
- read the article from The New York Times
- see the story from Medical Economics