We Need More Doctors
By Phillip Miller
It’s appropriate on March 30 -- National Doctor’s Day -- to reflect on both the value physicians bring to society and how they are viewed from a public policy perspective.
Physicians in the U.S. handle an overwhelming 1.2 billion patient encounters a year in office, inpatient and emergency department settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They diagnosis illness, admit patients to the hospital, prescribe drugs, develop treatment plans, perform complex procedures, coordinate care – and save and enhance countless lives in the process. Despite the growing role of other types of clinicians, physicians remain at the core of health care delivery and are indispensable as diagnosticians, surgeons, team leaders and patient advocates.
They also play a central economic role within the communities in which they practice. Each primary care physician supports 14 jobs and generates $2.2 million in economic activity, according to a study conducted by IMS Health for the American Medical Association (AMA).
Nevertheless, some policy makers believe that physicians represent a cost to the healthcare system rather than an asset. Those who hold that view remain committed to limiting the supply of doctors. This perspective recently was reflected in an article posted by the Journal of the American Medical Association in which the authors contend that there is no physician shortage and that the number of physicians being trained in the U.S. should not be increased.
A contrary perspective from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also was posted by JAMA, in which the authors present the AAMC’s new projection that the U.S. will face a deficit of up to 104,900 doctors by 2030 and that consequently the number of physicians being trained in the U.S. should be increased.
On virtually the same day that these articles were posted, Merritt Hawkins released its 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times indicating that the time it takes to schedule a new patient physician appointment in 15 major metro areas has increased by 30% since 2014 and now stands at an average of 24 days. In some metro areas the wait is much longer. In Boston, for example, the time to schedule a new patient appointment with a family medicine physician averages 109 days.
Nevertheless, in terms of actual policy, the perspective of those who believe that physician supply should be restricted prevails. Congress set a cap on the amount of funds spent on physician graduate medical education (GME) in 1997, and that cap remains in place, despite numerous bills submitted to Congress that would lift it. As a result, the number of new physicians being trained has increased only incrementally in the last 20 years while demand for medical services has rapidly accelerated.
As the nation’s leading physician search firm, Merritt Hawkins views physician supply and demand trends from what might be called the street level rather than the theoretical level. We understand how difficult it is to recruit physicians in today’s market, and we also are privileged to witness the profoundly beneficial effects physicians have on their patients and their communities. It is a pleasure on National Doctor’s Day to pay tribute to the remarkable, life-enhancing work that physicians do and to their unique skills, passion and commitment.
Physicians are a vital asset to the nation’s well-being and Merritt Hawkins is firmly in the camp of those who believe we should be training more of them. What messages would you like to convey about physicians on Doctor’s Day?
Phillip Miller is Vice President of Communications for Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician search firm and a company of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached here.
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