How Technology Will Ease the Physician-Shortage Crisis

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EIT-thumb2The future of health care is here, and it is technology.

As alluded to in a previous article, many experts believe technology is one of the solutions to the physician-shortage crisis, and a recently released Health Affairs study backs this up.

The study found that if 30 percent of community-based physicians’ offices had a fully implemented IT infrastructure, “gains in efficiency would reduce demand for physicians by 4 percent to 9 percent,” Ken Terry reports over at InformationWeek.

Terry writes, “Using health IT to support the delegation of work from physicians to midlevel practitioners and from specialists to primary-care doctors could reduce demand for physicians by 6 percent to 12 percent. And increasing the amount of IT-enabled remote care and asynchronous care could cut the percentage of overall care that physicians provide by 2 percent to 5 percent and 4 percent to 7 percent, respectively.”

He continues, “If 70 percent of office-based physicians adopted comprehensive health IT — including interoperable EHRs, clinical decision support, provider order entry, and patient Web portals with secure messaging — the impact on physician workforce requirements would be twice as large.”

However, the study estimates that it will take five to 15 years before the magical 30 percent of doctors’ offices are using IT comprehensively.

One of the authors of the study, Jonathan Weiner, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and a leading workforce and health IT expert, “admitted that most studies show a decrease in provider productivity after EHRs are introduced. But he said that he…[has] no doubt that the picture will change over time. As physicians are forced to increase their efficiency, he said, they’ll find ways to use their EHRs to do that. And today’s young doctors, who are generally tech savvy, will be leading the way in the future.”

Furthermore, eHealth will help in reducing readmissions and office visits, and as others have predicted, many current busywork duties that burden physicians down will be delegated “from physicians to nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs), and from specialists to primary-care doctors. According to Weiner, NPs and PAs are capable of doing 50 percent to 60 percent of what primary-care physicians do. The IT-enhanced ability of patients to communicate with their care teams accounts for most of the projected reductions in demand here, he said.”

Telemedicine will also have an impact on the future of health care.

“Five percent to 10 percent of real-time ‘office-based care’ could be delivered remotely by providers whose patients are not in the physician’s office. And 5 percent to 15 percent of care ‘could involve interactions between consumers and providers not only from separate locations, but at different points in time.’ Together, these factors could reduce regional shortages of physicians by 12 percent, the study said…

“Moreover, the number of telemedicine consults between patients in rural areas and big-city specialists is on the rise, he pointed out. As this becomes the norm, he said, the trend will increase access to doctors everywhere, despite the current and expected future maldistribution of physicians across the country.”

As health-care executives, how technologically proficient is your medical staff? Do you see technology as a possible solution to the physician-shortage crisis?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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