Room for Growth by Pat Conrad MD


Is there actually an imminent doctor shortage? The Association of American Medical Colleges sure thinks so, predicting that by 2020, the shortage will be more than 90,000 doctors, including a 45,000 – 52,000 shortfall in primary care physicians. The organization gives three major contributing factors, which make a lot of sense:

  • An aging population, with more deserving seniors than ever before being herded into the dependency of Medicare.
  • ObamaCare has brought somewhere over 13,000,000 into the ranks of the “insured” (without creating a single new doctor, nurse, or hospital bed).
  • More doctors than ever before are seeking to retire.

And if that isn’t enough editorializing for you, then I’ll add a fourth: primary care, as popularly constructed, over regulated, underpaid, and over-sued…put plainly…sucks. It’s not fun and increasingly fewer rational beings want to do it.

States with higher concentrations of doctors have lower uninsured rates: “When doctors treat insured patients they are paid more than when they treat uninsured patients, incentivizing them to move to highly insured states.” But that could change quickly. The AAMC’s chief policy officer Atul Glover told 24/7 Wall St “that although the new federal health law will expand Medicaid coverage, the program, along with Medicare, tends to pay physicians between 30% and 40% less than private insurance companies.” So there is no new cash coming to providers, even as demand outpaces supply. In a rational world this leads to price increases, but in government-controlled health care where prices are fixed, it’s hard to predict a big influx of highly intelligent people wanting to work for government cut-rate.

AAFP Pres. and apparent Kool-Aid snorter Dr Reid Blackwelder thinks “this problem will be the prompt the system needs to address these long-standing issues with our medical system. He admits, though, that he’s a “glass-half-full kind of guy.”

“He suggests existing technology could help. Not all patients actually need to see him personally; if there is a way to set up an online system so patients could access records, e-mail simple questions or request prescription refills, that would cut down on the amount of time they’d have to spend in his office. Blackwelder also thinks a team approach would be more productive in health care practices — something many hospitals are already trying to adopt.”

Blackwelder might enjoy the 2014 Merritt Hawkins survey that found, “almost 45% of physicians plan to cut back on seeing patients, to take on fewer patients, to retire, or to restrict new patients within the next 3 years…81% report working at capacity or overextended.” The extra work he is volunteering primary care docs for is sure to turn these numbers around.


60790cookie-checkRoom for Growth by Pat Conrad MD