The AAFP reported on a recent study outlining the projected family doctor shortage that is facing our nation. According to the organization, “The projections rely on a combination of factors to gauge current and future workforce needs on a state-by-state basis, focusing heavily on increased patient demand that is likely to result from an aging population, overall population growth and coverage expansions due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
The projections are very specific. For example, according to the projection for Arizona, the state demands an additional 1,941 primary care physicians by 2030. This is 150 percent of the current number of doctors. According to the research, 1,466 primary care physicians are needed because of population growth, 360 because of increased utilization, and 115 because of insurance expansions that occur as part of the Affordable Care Act.
According to the Graham Center, the projections are based on calculations that are not “set in stone.” They cite the nation’s immigration policies as one factor that will play an unpredictable, but considerable role in future population growth in certain states. This increase will affect the required number of primary care physicians, says Stephen Petterson, Ph.D., senior health policy researcher for the Graham Center. He adds, “Imagine, if we close the borders or lessen restriction on immigration — those kinds of changes could throw the projections off.”
And while we are well aware of the pressure that immigrants place on existing doctors, we are equally concerned about students choosing specializations instead of studying family care and internal medicine. Also, we noticed a missing factor in the study: What if direct care incentivizes more students to study family care, forge strong relationships with their patients, and succeed as caregivers and entrepreneurs? Yes, one could argue that more family physicians would be necessary than what is projected. But what about the joy that accompanies happy doctors and happy patients? Assuming family doctors actually get paid and are allotted time to do their job well, maybe this shortage would solve itself.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit hopeful. But given the fact that 60% of doctors wouldn’t recommend their profession to a younger generation, hope in direct care might be all we have for now.