The Massachusetts Medical Society Physician Workforce Study identified seven physician specialties as facing a critical or severe shortage in 2012 in Massachusetts. Those specialties include internal medicine, psychiatry, urology, neurosurgery, dermatology, family medicine and general surgery.
Seeing that national healthcare reform legislation is modeled after the Massachusetts healthcare reform in many ways, workforce shortages in Massachusetts could be a sign of problems to come on the national scene.
Effect on patients
Healthcare reform legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and the Massachusetts health reform bill of 2006, will extend insurance coverage to millions, but such efforts are in vain if the physician workforce cannot support the newly insured. Such is the case in Massachusetts. The MA state healthcare reform bill increased the percentage of insured Massachusetts residents to 97%; however 32.8% of insured residents indicated a problem obtaining healthcare in the past year.
Many residents in the Boston area and western regions were unable to access primary care services because doctors were not accepting new patients. One in five non-elderly adults reported challenges finding a physician. The lack of access to primary care services could be to blame for the overall increase in emergency department visits. According to the study’s author, healthcare reform in Massachusetts has shown insurance coverage alone may not guarantee patients access to care.
“National healthcare reform can learn from the Massachusetts overhaul, and gain insight into the importance of having an adequate medical community ready to treat the millions of newly insured patients.”
Effect on facilities
Although the physician workforce is strained, respondents report improvements in the time it takes to fill vacant positions and the number of qualified physicians available. However, rural western Massachusetts seemed to feel the pinch of the physician shortage the most of all the state regions. Eighty-five percent of respondents in that area said there is an inadequate pool of physicians in the region, 48% said they have had significant difficulty filling vacancies, and 64% said they have had to adjust staffing. On the national level, rural areas already struggle with meeting patient demand
For example, Mississippi, a mostly rural state has a physician to patient ratio of 176 to 10,000—the worst in the country. Extending healthcare coverage to more people in rural areas will make the shortage even worse. Many rural and underserved communities rely on a steady stream of locum tenens physicians to meet their needs.
Here at Barton, a significant percentage of our client base is located in rural areas, and we are prepared to meet the increasing demand for qualified providers in this region as healthcare reform initiatives are implemented.