How to maintain access to health care in face of physician shortages

January 6, 2014 in Personalized Healthcare  •  By Miles Varn

It’s getting harder to find a primary care doctor and that could have a significant impact on your health. The number of practicing physicians in the U.S. has been in decline for decades. At the same time, the total U.S. population and the number of people 65 and older, who usually use more health care services, have continued to grow. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of 63,000 physicians by 2015, which will grow to 130,600 by 2025.

The physician shortage has hit primary care particularly hard, with a projected shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians over the course of the next 10 years. The rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is also contributing to the shortage. An estimated additional 32 to 40 million Americans will now have health insurance and need a primary care physician to manage their care. According to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, the U.S. will need at least 52,000 additional primary care physicians by 2025.

How will the physician shortage affect your care?
Not only will this situation make it harder to find a primary care physician and get a doctor’s appointment, a physician survey conducted by a major malpractice insurer found that those physicians believe that the pressures of caring for more patients will negatively impact the level of care they can provide.

Some studies have linked a shortage of primary care physicians with poorer health outcomes. A white paper published by the American College of Physicians, notes that states with higher ratios of primary care physicians had:

  • decreased mortality from cancer, heart disease and strokes
  • fewer premature deaths and an increase in lifespan
  • a higher percentage of people who reported being in good health

Strategies to help preserve your access to health care

There are a number of ways you can ensure that you have access to the care you need. Many people are opting to join a concierge medical practice to maintain and enhance their access to primary and preventive care services. While many concierge practices come with high price tags, there are a growing number of direct pay, concierge-style practices that charge relatively modest fees and serve middle and lower income patients.

Another option is to join a personal health advisory or health advocate service. These services do not provide medical care, rather they help members navigate the healthcare system and receive the care and support they need to lead their healthiest lives or to manage complex medical diagnoses like cancer, back injuries and other chronic conditions.

The best solution may be a combination of the services that a health advisory service and a concierge or direct pay practice can provide. You’ll have fast access to the primary care you need and the personal attention a concierge physician provides. In addition, you will have expanded resources and support that can help ensure you have access to the specialists and evidence-based information you need when you’re facing a serious illness or injury or working to develop a comprehensive health strategy.

To build this solution, it’s wise to interview several different concierge practices and personal health advisory services and compare their services, benefits and fees. When vetting your choices, ask to speak to current or past patients and members to get a better understanding of the level of service provided and the ease of access to care.