A new report from the Healthforce Center at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) posits California won’t have enough primary care physicians by 2030.
The report said physician supply will decrease between now and 2030 “in nearly every supply scenario estimated.” The Healthcare Center at UCSF predicted nearly half of the state’s full-time equivalent primary care clinicians will be nurse practitioners and physician assistants by 2030.
These kinds of reports are often an inexact science. For instance, The New York Times recently reported on a study that said an expected physician shortage didn’t happen with the Affordable Care Act.
The study said California will be short about 4,700 primary care clinicians in 2025 and about 4,100 primary care clinicians in 2030.
Healthforce Research faculty member Janet Coffman said the result of a primary care clinician shortage is that more Californians will visit emergency rooms for basic care, such asthma, ear infections and flu because there won’t be enough primary care clinicians.
An alternative to emergency rooms could be convenient care, retail clinics and urgent care centers. There are more than 2,300 convenient care centers in the U.S. and that number is expected to grow. American Development Partners, a private equity and real estate firm, recently invested $1 billion in American Family Care. The deal will allow the largest urgent care center operator in the country to grow from more than 180 clinics to close to 500 locations. Also, CVS Health is expanding its MinuteClinic programs to help people with chronic diseases.
Predicting the future is never an exact science, especially when it comes to healthcare. However, studies show new doctors are heading into specialties rather than primary care.
According to the Federation of State Medical Boards, the number of actively licensed physicians at the end of 2016 increased 12% since 2010. The U.S. physician-to-population ratio increased in that time from 277 physicians per 100,000 people to 295 per 100,000. However, even that increase may not keep up as the country ages.
Plus, some specialties have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, which hasn’t been the case for primary care physicians. For instance, doctors of osteopathic medicine have increased 65% since 2006.
How do can the issue be resolved? The report suggested some possible ways to bridge that potential gap, including actively recruiting primary care physicians in California; expanding primary care residency programs; improving physician retention, especially younger doctors; expanding team-based primary care models; and ensuring “scope-of-practice regulations” for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to “maximize their capacity to provide primary care.”