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Study: U.S. will need 52,000 more family docs by 2025

7:58 am by | 8 Comments

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A growing and aging population, along with increased access to health insurance, will create the need for 52,000 more primary care doctors within the U.S. by the year 2025, according to a new study.

The researchers wanted to estimate how many such doctors the U.S. healthcare system would need after the passage of 2010's Affordable Care Act, which will give an estimated 34 million more Americans access to health insurance.

But Dr. Winston Liaw, one of the study's authors, said the biggest need will not come from more people having health insurance.

"A lot of the increase in utilization is going to be from population growth. That's going to be the largest driver. Then, a smaller percentage is actually going to be from insurance expansion," said Liaw, who was a fellow at Washington's Robert Graham Center when the study was written.


Liaw and his colleagues, who published their findings in the Annals of Family Medicine, used several databases to estimate how many primary care doctors there are in the U.S., and how many people visit them.

They then used that information with additional data from the U.S. Census Bureau to predict how many doctors would be needed as the population grew, aged and gained access to health insurance.

In 2008, the researchers estimated that people made 462 million office visits to primary care doctors. They estimate that number to grow to 565 million office visits by 2025.

That additional use, they say, will require a 3 percent increase in the current primary doctor workforce, or an additional 52,000 doctors.

"That number is an expectation of how many we'll need in addition to how many we have today," said Liaw, now at Virginia Commonwealth University in Fairfax.

Of those, 33,000 doctors are needed to account for population growth, 10,000 for the aging population and more than 8,000 for increased insurance access.

"The fact that they made separate estimates for the increased demands for primary care services that might be due to population growth on the one hand, and aging of the population and thirdly the Affordable Care Act is a very useful addition to this area," said Dr. John Rowe of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York.


The study, however, cannot say whether or not there will be enough doctors to handle the additional need, said Liaw.

For that, he added, they would have to also look at how many people are expected to graduate from medical school and how many doctors will retire.

But some organizations have looked at those numbers, and are expecting a severe doctor shortage in the coming years.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. will face a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2020, which will grow to a shortage of more than 130,000 by 2025.

The Affordable Care Act, which puts a lot of focus on primary care doctors, includes some provisions - such as offering additional money - to encourage medical school students to become primary care doctors instead of specialists, who tend to get paid more.

Those provisions, however, are only expected to provide 500 additional doctors per year.

Rowe, who was not involved with the new research, told Reuters Health that he found it "striking" that the authors neglected to address the potential for non-physicians, such as nurse practitioners, to pick up some of the extra workload.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued a report saying nurses could take on additional duties to take some of the strain off of the healthcare system. (see Reuters story of October 5, 2012. http://reut.rs/WfvMcn)

In addition to not taking into account how nurses or physician assistants may influence the numbers, the authors also warn that their estimates are based on how many people visited primary care doctors in 2008.

"If things change, we could not account for that," said Liaw.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/XIQ26D Annals of Family Medicine, November/December 2012.

Copyright 2014 MedCity News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Randall Oates MD
Randall Oates MD

The doctor shortage will be solved by removing the waste in most doctor's day. Most are now doing 2-3 hours of paperwork and administrative tasks that can now be mostly delegated via new generation I.T. solutions (i.e. EHR and patient engagement) and redesigned workflows. This is the worst of times where doctors have been turned into low capacity, distracted data trolls.

Dr Moshe
Dr Moshe

Until the reimbursement profile of the primary care provider changes it will be a challenge to increase their rolls.


@justaman1971 My ready only involves packing & A LOT of time in the car! Lol I travel to 2 different states, 2 Thanksgivings, Thurs & Fri :)


@justaman1971 Good morning! Ready for the holiday? :)


The headline is misleading because it said family MDs. It should have said instead there is a need for more primary care providers - this can include internal medicine, pediatrics, not just family practice MDs. And also, I agree with the article that utilizing NPs as primary care providers would be useful. Also, consideration of novel provision models of providing care e.g. group visits for the anticipatory guidance and medical educators for education regarding diet/etc can free up MDs to do the physical exam, etc. Bottom line though: if you don't pay primary care providers enough, people won't want to go through all the cost and pain of medical school, to do that job.

John Watson
John Watson

General practitioners and other family doctors earn less over their careers than specialists, according to a recent UC Davis study, which is a huge disincentive for medical school students to choose family practice: www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/publish/news/newsroom/696


Doctors are already double booking patients every 15 mins. In my opinion, care has already been in the toilet. 15 mins to see a patient? That is ridiculous! The whole medical industry (driven by big Pharma) has been broken for years. Now we just doubled down on stupidity with Obama-care. With electronic health records, doctors are checking boxes and updating the record and wasting valuable time looking at the computer screen. You're lucky if you have your doctor's attention for 5 mins.


How about doing to physicians what has been done to software engineers?  Open up the floodgates of the H1B visa worker.

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