Tag Archives: Physician Shortage

The Providers: A Film About Rural Health Care in America

Saturday evening, I came upon a documentary film in the Independent Lens series on PBS about the problems facing a part of rural America in providing health care to a poor, mostly elderly, and under-served population.

The film, The Providers, presented a very human face to the physician shortage, as well as the opioid epidemic in rural America, specifically by following three healthcare professionals at El Centro, a group of safety-net clinics that offer care to anyone who walks through the doors in northern New Mexico.

The providers in the film are Matt Probst, a Physician’s Assistant, Leslie Hayes, a Family Physician, and Chris Ruge, a Nurse Practitioner.

The first clinic shown is located in Las Vegas, New Mexico, a far cry from that other Las Vegas, many of you have gone to for conventions and gambling trips. The population of this Las Vegas is 13,201, and the per capita income is $15,481.

As the opening segment states, in 2016, 70,000 deaths in rural American could have been prevented with better access to health care.

Among some of the other points the documentary brings to mind are:

  • Hospital closures due to cuts to Medicaid
  • Failure to expand Medicaid, or repealing expansion Medicaid under the ACA

Chris Ruge, the Nurse Practitioner, is part of a program funded by insurance companies called ECHO Care™, which is an innovative program designed to improve access to primary and specialty care for patients with complex needs while also reducing the cost of care by utilizing a multidisciplinary team-based approach.  In New Mexico, the ECHO Care program expanded the capacity of primary care clinicians through:

  • The assembling, training and placement  of “Outpatient Intensivist Teams” (OIT) which dramatically improve care and reduce costs for the Medicaid beneficiaries served in this program.
  • Special teleECHO clinic designed to support the OITs as they care for patients with significant multi-morbidity, including mental health and substance abuse.

At some point, as the viewer will learn, the companies funding the program want to terminate it, but the CEO of the clinic wants to continue it, whether or not it makes a profit, as long as they break even, because she recognizes the benefits outweighs the cost and profitability.

In order to make sure that they can continue to provide health care to the community, both in Las Vegas, and in another town, they are recruiting from the local high school for students interested in careers in health care.

This was a very eye-opening film and should be watched by anyone who cares about health care and access to care for rural populations, and those who deal with patients suffering from substance abuse, either opioids or alcohol.

 

 

Growing General Surgeon Shortage

On the heels of my recent post, Free Medical School Tuition Could Solve Physician Shortage, comes a new article about the shortage of general surgeons.

Friday, Reuters Health reported about a new study in the US that projected that the shortage of general surgeons in the US will get worse as the number of doctors entering the workforce fails to keep pace with population growth.

The study’s researchers predicted shortages based on their estimates of population growth by 2050, and by the number of medical schools and hospital-sponsored general surgery trainee positions.

  • By 2050, there will be a deficit of 7,047 general surgeons nationwide
  • That is higher than the shortage of 6,000 they predicted a decade ago based on the pace of population growth and new surgeons entering the job market at that time.

The lead study author, Dr. E. Christopher Ellison of Ohio State University, was quoted as saying, “Leaders in surgery have predicted a pending shortage in the general surgery workforce for more than 10 years.”

Dr. Ellison also said that, “the impact of the general surgeon shortages on patients is measured in the timeliness of care and the consequences of delays in care.”

The study was published in the journal Surgery, and the researchers noted that there should be about 7.5 general surgeons for every 100,000 people, to maintain acceptable access to surgical care.

According to the study, the number of general surgery resident positions and the number of residents completing their training has been rising in the US, but these increases have been insufficient to maintain the ideal number of surgeons for the population.

The authors stated, that if anything, the projected shortage is an underestimate.

Dr. Ellison: “We have not considered the impact of the aging population on the surgeon’s workload…Patients 65 years and older are more likely to need general surgery services, and as that segment of the population increases, there will be a corresponding increase in the demands for general surgeons.”

Ellison also added, that because most general surgeons practice in metropolitan areas, the impact of the shortage will be more keenly felt by rural communities.

The researchers assumed, in calculating the projected shortage, that some young trainees would choose subspecialties like vascular or transplant surgery, instead of general surgery. They assumed, also, that general surgeons would work for 30 years before retiring.

Two possibilities can be reached from the findings of the study: one, it is possible that the researchers have over- or under-estimated how many general surgeons will enter the profession each year and how many years they will remain on the job; and two, it is also possible that population growth estimates might change again, altering the shortage projections.

Dr. Anupam Jena, a Harvard Medical School researcher and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital said the following: “Because there are fixed high costs to developing a general surgical practice in a more remotely populated area, we observe fewer practices in these areas. I wouldn’t call this a shortage per se, but I do think it’s a problem that as a society we need to figure out solutions to.”

Dr. Jena was not part of the study. Two solutions offered by Dr. Jena, however, were identifying ways for rural patients who need surgical care to be promptly evaluated and treated at medical centers several hours away, or it might involve encouraging graduates of both American and foreign medical training programs to work in remote parts of the country.

I’ve discussed the projected shortage of physicians in the past, but this is the first time, a specific specialty of physicians has been studied for a projected shortage specifically. And as in the past, I have suggested that medical travel could alleviate the shortage, especially in workers’ compensation.

Either we follow the suggestions of Dr. Jena and others, or we consider looking abroad for the solution to a growing problem — a shortage of general surgeons.

 

Free Medical School Tuition Could Solve Physician Shortage

Earlier this week, Elizabeth Rosenthal , former correspondent of the New York Times, and now the editor in chief of Kaiser Health News, wrote an opinion piece in response to the announcement by New York University’s School of Medicine’s decision to eliminate tuition for all current and future medical students.

Rosenthal, an emergency room doctor who became a journalist, stated that the goal of the free tuition was to eliminate a financial barrier for medical school applicants, and to address a crucial imbalance in the country’s physician work force.

She indicated that research had proven that the burden of medical school debt discourages doctors from going into practices that are poorly paid, such as primary care, or working in places where many patients are on Medicaid.

Rosenthal notes that there is a shortage of doctors working in these areas. Readers will recall that I have posted several articles on the predicted physician shortage. Those articles suggested medical travel could be an alternative solution in workers’ comp cases.

Even though the US has about the same number of doctors for our population as does Canada, Britain, and Japan, Rosenthal noted — American doctors are more likely to be paid more in subspecialties such as orthopedic surgery, rather than primary care.

Rosenthal cites N.Y.U.’s Law School when she points out that the medical school got it wrong as having a better solution.

Instead of making medical school free for everyone, Rosenthal states, N.Y.U., and all medical schools, should waive tuition for those students who commit to work where they are needed most.

The law school is a model and has a program that attracts the best and brightest to the low-wage corners of the legal profession. Students who commit to a career in public service, pay no tuition; those who go to corporate law pay the full amount.

Rosenthal recommends that medical schools should commit to so that students entering medical school, and who are not sure of their path, is to forgive or paying back the loans of doctors who go into lower-paying fields or set up a practice in underserved areas.

The government, she writes, could demand a system from academic medical centers as a precondition for receiving subsidies and payments.

Also, if a doctor chooses to deliver babies in rural Oklahoma or practice pediatrics in the South Side of Chicago, they should keep their salary.

The government, military, and some states already subsidize tuition, or pay back loans in exchange for limited-time service commitments, as my younger brother did when he graduated medical school.

The real goal, Rosenthal says, is to enable and support young doctors who feel that medicine is a calling, not as we know it today — as a means to get to the top 1 percent.

As the idea for free tuition for public colleges and universities is debated, doing so for medical school will alleviate the predicted physician shortage, allow more lower income minority students to attend without debt hanging over them when they graduate, and will improve the health of those in underserved and poorer neighborhoods.

That will likely impact the overall cost of health care as more people can see a doctor in their neighborhood, and not in an emergency room.

P.S. I am a graduate of N.Y.U.’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and took out loans that were paid back more than ten years later. Perhaps one day, that will also be a thing of the past.

With shortage looming, primary care doctors’ salaries rise | Healthcare Dive

Physician shortage issue has resurfaced, this time with regard to primary care physicians’ salaries, as per the Healthcare Dive article below.

Compensation for non-physician providers grew 8% over the past five years, reflecting their increased role amid an aging population.

Source: With shortage looming, primary care doctors’ salaries rise | Healthcare Dive

Number of Foreign Doctors Coming to US Dropping

As reported this morning in the weblog, Working Immigrants, the number of foreign born doctors wanting to come to the US is dropping, which may have a significant impact on the availability of doctors in certain parts of the country and in many hospitals and clinics, especially those that serve underserved and lower-income communities.

According to Working Immigrants, there are more than 247,000 doctors with medical degrees from foreign countries practicing in the US.

They make up slightly more than one-quarter of all doctors, and most are not US citizens, and are foreign-born as well.

One of the channels of immigration of foreign-born and foreign trained doctors is through graduate medical study. This year, just over 7,000 international medical graduates applied to study in the US, representing a downturn of 217 from last year, and nearly 400 from 2016.

Nearly 25% of residents across all medical fields were born outside the US in 2015, and in subspecialty residency programs, foreign medical graduates accounted for more than one-third of residents.

As I indicated above, foreign-trained doctors are more likely to practice in lower-income and disadvantaged communities than their American counterparts,

Where more than 30% of the population lives below the poverty rate, nearly one-third of the doctors are foreign-trained. And where per-capita income is below $15,000 per year, 42.5% of all doctors are foreign-trained. Finally, where 75% or more of the population is non-white, 36.2% of the doctors are foreign-trained.

This trend will most likely impact the predicted physician shortage that has been previously reported in this blog. In addition, it will add to the burden hospitals are facing in providing care as many of these immigrants work in hospitals to augment the staff shortages they already have.

If this trend continues thanks to current administration policy and xenophobia, the problem will only get worse. The reader should be aware that to even get into the US to practice medicine is a long and difficult process and many physicians do not get in to the country.

Instead of turning away good doctors from foreign countries, we should welcome them and keep them working in the areas of the country where they are practicing and providing care to those who otherwise would not have a doctor to go to.

Foreign-born, US-trained Physicians in Medical Travel vs US-born, Foreign-trained Physicians Practicing in the US and Foreign-born, Foreign-trained Physicians Practicing in the US

Those of you in the Workers’ Comp space have probably read my earlier posts extolling the benefits of medical travel, and promoting its implementation into workers’ comp.

Yet, in all those posts, hard evidence of the quality of care provided by physicians in these destinations was not presented.

However,  there is evidence that foreign trained, US  born doctors practicing in the US, provide as good as or better care than that provided by graduates of US medical schools, according to a recent study mentioned over the weekend in a post by Peter Rousmaniere, in his blog, Working Immigrants.

From this data, it may be possible to suggest that foreign-born doctors, trained in US schools provide the same good or better care than their American-born classmates, when they return to their home countries and work in medical travel facilities.

Before beginning to write this post, I tried to research some data on this, but was unable to find any recent information. However, it is well known that there are considerable numbers of foreign-born, US trained and Western trained physicians in medical travel facilities, which is one key factor in choosing to go abroad for medical care.

As Peter reported, among the 12.4 million workers in the health care field in 2015, 2.1 million, or 17% were foreign born. Of these, the foreign born accounted for 28% of the 910,000 physicians and surgeons practicing in the US. 24% of that number are in nursing, psychiatric and home health care.

How many of the foreign-born physicians trained in the US return home is not certain, but given the fact that many foreign born, foreign trained physicians have a hard time gaining access to practice in the US, it is not difficult to ascertain that those who do not enter the US end up working in their home country. In order to practice in the US, they must pass tests by a special commission and enter a residency program, even if they have done them before.

How many foreign trained, US born physicians practice in the US? According to Peter, about 25% of practicing physicians graduated from foreign medical schools. About a third of them are Americans. They are more likely, Peter says, to practice in rural and poorer communities, and are overrepresented in primary care. Given the physician shortage that I and others have commented on, there will be a need for more foreign-born doctors, and perhaps, more US trained, foreign-born doctors to work in medical travel facilities.

The Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) gave roughly 10,000 certifications in 2015. 30.9% were issued to US citizens, 18.9% were issued to citizens of India and Pakistan, and 7.9% from Canada.

The states with the highest percentage of practicing physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools are New Jersey (40%), New York (38%), and Florida (35%).

Most of the New Jersey physicians no doubt practice in the Metropolitan New York Area, given the state’s proximity to NYC. And Florida has a large percentage given the demographics of that state.

So, if foreign-born, US trained physicians are ok for treating injured workers here, why can’t their fellow countrymen do the same back home if an injured worker, or his employer choose that as an option to expensive surgery at an American hospital?

Don’t tell me there is a difference, because there isn’t. It is only ignorance and prejudice that prevents foreign-born, US trained physicians from treating injured workers in medical travel facilities. That is another problem our health care and workers’ comp systems need to deal with.

Travel Ban to Affect Physician Shortage: What Medical Travel Can Do

The following post, from fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, who has a guest post from former WCRI CEO, Dr. Rick Victor, states that the current political regime in Washington’s ban on travel from certain countries and ban on allowing a certain religious minority into the country will further exacerbate the already projected physician shortage that this writer had previously discussed in earlier posts on the subject.

Here is the link to Joe’s and Dr. Victor’s posts.

If there ever was a good enough reason for the implementation of medical travel into general health care, and into workers’ comp medical care, this is it.

Do you really want to see injured workers go without treatment or without needed surgeries because there aren’t enough US-born physicians and surgeons, because some narcissistic, egomaniacal, billionaire con artist has banned needed foreign-born physicians from entering the country?

Who knows? Maybe one of these doctors has a revolutionary new treatment or therapy that can bring relief to millions of Americans, or can cure a terrible disease?

Banning them only makes America weaker, not Great Again.

P.S. Here is a follow-up post from Peter Rousmaniere’s Working Immigrants blog.