I called my Primary Care Physician (PCP) this week to make an appointment for a physical before the end of the year. It usually takes about two months to get in, so I thought my timing was perfect. I almost dropped the phone when they told me my doctor was booked until February 2013!!! I have heard about the impending PCP shortage for some time now, but this was the first time it actually affected me. And this is BEFORE, Healthcare Reform takes effect and an estimated additional 30 million people are looking for care.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, even without the expansion of insurance coverage, the aging baby boomers demand on care will already create a shortage of 100,000 physicians by 2025.
What does this mean for Healthcare Providers? It means that the expansion of insurance coverage will not necessarily translate into an expansion in care. With patients experiencing increasing difficulty finding doctors to see them, they will continue to be driven to seek care in the Emergency Room. They will continue to not address chronic health issues. They will forgo lifesaving screenings. In short, if we don’t have enough PCP doctor’s we will not be able to solve many of the issues at the center of healthcare reform- access to care, reduction of comorbidities, and lower cost in the system.
What is the answer? Do we just need to figure out a way to train more Doctors? It takes many, many years to train a doctor. Even if we flood the Medical School System to capacity, by offering incentives to students who become physicians, it will be a decade or more before there is any effect on the problem. However, the major insurance provisions of the Healthcare Law take effect in 2014. That is two short years from now. What can Healthcare Providers do in those two short years?
The short answer is that we will have to find a way to deliver care in a different perhaps more efficient way. Take my PCP, for example. They called me back and advised they had figured out a way to take more appointments for physicals by offering a split appointment. I will come in early in the morning to have my lab work done and stats done, and then come back in the afternoon to see the Doctor. Their practice is also attempting to hire an additional nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to see more patients for routine visits.
What changes are your facilities considering to address these imminent issues?