The “doctor crisis” may not be as extreme as everyone thinks. At WaPo, Lenny Bernstein marshals some evidence that the U.S. might not have a physician shortage problem as much as a physician distribution problem. Bernstein writes in response to a new prediction by the Association of American Medical Colleges that the U.S. will be short 90,000 doctors by 2025. But not everyone thinks the Association has its numbers right. Bernstein quotes the National Academy of Sciences:
“Although the [graduate medical education] system has been producing more physicians, it has not produced an increasing proportion of physicians who choose to practice primary care, to provide care to underserved populations, or to locate in rural or other underserved areas. In addition, nearly all GME training occurs in hospitals—even for primary care residencies—in spite of the fact that most physicians will ultimately spend much of their careers in ambulatory, community-based settings.” […]When it looked at a shortage of primary-care physicians projected at 20,400 by 2020, the Health Resources and Services Administration, which projects workforce needs for the federal government, also said proper use of physician assistants and nurses could reduce the number to about 6,400.
According to this view, the problem exists, but it’s not as bad as it sounds—and there are solutions at hand. In order to cope with the lack of doctors working in primary care settings, for example, we can empower nurse practitioners to provide more care. To compensate for the shortage of doctors in rural areas, we can promote and perfect the use of telemedicine, aided by evolving digital technologies such as advance monitoring systems and videoconferencing. But there are many regulatory barriers to both fixes, including the rules mandating that doctors get licensed in every state in which they treat patients—even if they offer treatment via video link. The sooner we can alter the laws that limit the supply of service providers, the better we will be able to meet the shortages that occur, no matter their causes.