Prescriptions for Change: PRR Explores the U.S. Primary Care Physician Shortage
Most people have experienced the frustration of needing to see their primary care physician but being unable to get an appointment for weeks or months. Often, patients are told that the primary care physician is overbooked. Sometimes, the primary care physician has left the practice without a replacement.
This situation grows dire when the patient is experiencing a potentially serious ailment.
The primary care physician shortage in the U.S. has grown more acute in recent years and it’s being felt by almost everyone, impacting everything from care quality to economics. It’s only expected to get worse, with an estimated shortage of up to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034, according to the Association of American Medical College.
Here are the five main impacts of the primary care physician shortage in the U.S.:
1. Diminished Health Care
Everyone should visit a primary care physician annually for an exam, but the primary care physician is also the first stop for most people with new medical problems. Catching issues early through check-ups and early intervention is key to keeping small health conditions from growing into potentially serious or deadly ones. Without adequate access to primary care, conditions may go undiagnosed or untreated until they become more severe.
Primary care physicians also often play a role in coordinating a patient’s care across different specialists and settings. Without a regular primary care physician, patients might experience fragmented care, which can lead to missed diagnoses, redundant tests and medication errors.
2. Increased Healthcare Costs
When patients can’t access primary care, they might turn to more expensive care settings, like emergency rooms, for non-emergency issues. This drives up costs for both patients and the healthcare system. This can also lead to overcrowded emergency rooms, creating longer wait times for all patients — including those with genuine emergencies.
3. Growing Healthcare Disparities
Rural and low-income communities are often hit hardest by primary physician shortages. This can exacerbate health disparities, as these communities might already face other healthcare challenges, such as fewer healthcare facilities or limited access to specialists.
4. Overworked Primary Care Physicians
The existing primary care physician workforce is facing increased pressure and burnout due to the added workload, potentially compromising the quality of care they can provide. It also leads to early retirement, which is one of the main contributors to the primary care physician shortage.
5. Economic Fallout
In many communities, especially rural ones, healthcare providers are significant employers. A shortage of primary care physicians or clinics that provide primary care can have broader economic implications, affecting jobs, local economies and community well-being.
Addressing the Primary Care Physician Shortage’s Impact
Training or retraining physicians who want to return to medicine after some time off, make a change before retiring or change specialties for any number of reasons is the best way to head off the primary care physician shortage’s impacts. This premise of “recycling” the potential pool of hundreds of thousands of licensed physicians is the foundation for Physician Retraining & Reentry. When physician retraining includes introduction to innovative and new care models, such as telehealth, it serves as a proactive and successful response to the primary care physician shortage.
Interested in being a part of the primary care physician shortage? Contact PRR!
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