4 Market Solutions to the Physician Shortage Crisis

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4ST-thumb2We’ve all read stories and studies about the looming physician-shortage crisis and how it’s going to strike in full between 2020 and 2025.

But it would be a mistake to assume that enterprising entrepreneurs are sitting on the sidelines alongside hospitals and health systems just waiting for this to happen, writes Andis Robeznieks at Modern Healthcare.

Instead, there are “health systems and businesses [who] are using the physician shortage as an opportunity to roll out more cost-effective delivery systems and deploy different types of professionals to provide healthcare” by “…figuring what work needs to be done by a doctor and what work can better be done by different types of providers.”

Here then are four market solutions, as outlined by Robeznieks, to the physician-shortage crisis.

1.)  New Delivery Models

Innovators believe that the impact of new delivery models, such as patient-centered medical homes and accountable-care organizations, on health care should not be underestimated in their ability to “reduce the number of physicians needed. Some of these changes have been tenaciously opposed by organized medicine, but many physician leaders are embracing the new models.”

With regards to the patient-centered medical-home model, it has been found “that properly staffed, nurse-managed health centers and doctors’ offices that have adopted the patient-centered medical-home model have shown that provider organizations can serve more patients better with fewer physicians as long as they have the right team and right processes in place.”

2.)  Reallocating Physician Responsibilities

Some experts believe the physician shortage can “be solved through technology and reallocation of responsibilities.”

For example, easing the burden of clerical duties on physicians by giving those duties to a nonphysician could increase the levels of patient volumes a hospital would be able to maintain, while reducing physician stress and burn-out.

3.)  Seeking More Funding for Residencies

Young people want to be physicians. This should not be taken for granted. However, most of their dreams are stymied by lack of residency slots.

If Medicare funding for physician training, funding that has plateaued since 1997, would catch up to modern health care, however, more residency slots could also open up.

Robeznieks writes, “While medical and osteopathic school enrollment continues to climb, the number of available residency slots remains stagnant. One result was that 528 graduating medical-school seniors did not match with a residency program this year, as many as twice the number of seniors who went unmatched in 2012, the AAMC reported.”

4.)  The Growth of Retail Clinics

There are now 1,400 retail clinics around the country. These clinics are usually run by nurse practitioners.

Robeznieks reveals that a 2010 study from the Center for Studying Health System Change found that “4.1 million families used a retail clinic. Getting care in retail clinics tends to be cheaper than care in physician’s office or hospital-based care, and that’s attractive to patients who face increasing cost-sharing burdens under their health plans. The average cost of a 14-day episode for the 10 most common diagnoses treated in a retail clinic was $484 to $543, depending on the state, according to a report in the November Health Affairs. The comparable cost of treatment for those diagnoses in doctors’ offices, hospital outpatient departments, and hospital emergency departments was $704.”

As health-care executives, how are you dealing with a shortage of physicians? Has your organization devised any solutions to the crisis on a local level? What market solutions would you offer in addition to the ones listed above?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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