What if there’s really no physician shortage?

The supposed impending shortage of physicians has been well-documented over the past few years, and health systems have taken to amassing as many providers – particularly primary care – as possible, yet it may be a reflexive reaction rooted in antiquated thinking. According to a briefing from D.C.-based healthcare consultancy The Advisory Board Company, the […]

The supposed impending shortage of physicians has been well-documented over the past few years, and health systems have taken to amassing as many providers – particularly primary care – as possible, yet it may be a reflexive reaction rooted in antiquated thinking.

According to a briefing from D.C.-based healthcare consultancy The Advisory Board Company, the rush to snatch up docs, driven in part by volume-based incentives of the fee-for-service payment model, relies on three “outdated assumptions” :

– Physicians serve as patients’ health care agents. More
physicians in our network means more patients.

– There’s a scarcity of physician talent. Physicians who aren’t
with us are against us.

– We face a limited set of competitors. We compete with
organizations that look like us, namely other hospitals and
ambulatory care sites.

The perceived shortage has been a significant driver of consolidation within healthcare (though it’s far from the only driver), but what if it’s all wrong and fail to take into account patient preferences?

“All three of these assumptions are faltering. In fact, patients are becoming active retail shoppers for both coverage and care; there may not be a physician shortage; and disruptive innovators are entering the market.”

With patients having to increasingly navigate narrow networks and rising deductibles, and thousand of mobile apps and more transparency, “all roads to patients no longer run through physicians,” the consultancy posits.

To that end, what if the alleged physician shortage simply isn’t happening?

“…Shortage projections are based on outdated estimates of physician supply and demand. New care models and technologies are improving physician efficiency and increasing effective supply, while population health efforts and the retail insurance environment are reducing demand.”

Accordingly, health systems should adjust their strategies and build more “cost-effective” clinical networks “that can compete in the new value-based market.” Four key factors to consider: emerging patient demand, which can mean a “smaller, more purposefully designed clinical workforce”; better labor cost efficiency for hospitals; “a more collaborative clinical workforce”; and a readiness to meet new and evolving patient demands.

Not to mention, there’s little signs of digital health startups slowing down across the country, bringing with them new models — often without providers.