Health Care Reform: Is There a Doctor in the House?

September 16, 2010

Health reform will put insurance cards in the hands of tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans.  Some experts worry that this could lead to longer wait times to see a doctor, particularly in rural areas and underserved markets where primary care physicians are in short supply, says BusinessWeek.com.

A primary care practice is often a patient's first and ongoing contact with the medical system.  Primary care physicians are generalists trained to diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions, provide preventive services and counseling, coordinate care and make necessary referrals to specialists, says BusinessWeek.com.

  • Yet primary care physicians make up only 35 percent of America's physician workforce, and the pipeline of fresh talent is tapering off.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of U.S. medical students are choosing to practice primary care medicine, according to the Council on Graduate Medical Education.
  • Studies project a shortage of 44,000 to 46,000 primary care doctors by 2025 unless action is taken to lure more medical students into the field and retain experienced primary care doctors.

Further muddying the outlook for the future, a new study estimates that more than half of the 354 million annual doctor visits for so-called acute medical care -- for problems like fevers, stomach aches and coughs -- are not made to a patient's primary care physician, and that more than 25 percent of such visits take place in hospital emergency rooms.  The authors of the study, published in the journal Health Affairs, said the findings underscore a big concern about the new health reform legislation:  Can access to primary care doctors be maintained, much less improved, when the nation's health care system takes on 32 million newly insured customers starting in 2014?

Source: Karen Pallarito, "Health Care Reform: Is There a Doctor in the House?" Bloomberg Businessweek, September 8, 2010.

For Health Affairs study:

http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/29/9/1620

 

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