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How to Circumvent the Primary Care Physician Shortage

by Emily Lopez, clinical research and health policy consultant

The warnings have been pretty clear – demand for primary care physicians (PCPs) dwarfs supply, and will do so increasingly into the next decade.

Further, the physician deficit coincides when primary care is playing a much bigger role in population health management and more people are gaining access to health coverage. Clearly, this presents significant implications for health systems seeking to enhance their primary care networks.

So what’s the solution? Here are five strategies health systems are employing to circumvent the PCP shortage.

Midlevel Providers
Midlevel providers, when effectively integrated into a care delivery system, can bolster patient access while decreasing the need to add new PCPs – or at least buy time to recruit and hire new physicians. The number of midlevel providers is drastically outpacing the PCP supply.

From 1996 to 2008, the number of PCPs grew by 29% while nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) increased by 123% and 153%, respectively, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

If PAs and NPs are effectively integrated and leveraged, a projected shortage of 20,400 physicians in 2020 could be reduced to 6,400 PCPs, according to the Health Services and Resources Administration (HSRA).

Alternate Delivery Models
In light of the limited pool of PCPs, systems are pursuing alternate care models, such as the patient-centered medical home (PCMH). In the team-based approach of the PCMH model, for example, PCPs manage the overall care plans of patients, but midlevel providers and nursing staff take on more of the legwork in care delivery by engaging patients during visits, as well as via telephone and e-mail. So, while many PCMH models require increases in staff, they do not necessarily require more physicians.

You can continue reading this post on the Health Leadership Forum.

Emily is a manager for ECG Management Consulting, with a focus on clinical research and health policy.

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