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Wednesday, March 31st 2010

The Doctor Won’t See You

I’ve made a big deal about access to physicians of recent. A little bit of a whiny deal. But there’s more to physician access than merely reimbursement. The media has picked up, with some gusto, the story that a surge in the insured and a ‘shortage’ of primary care physicians in the United States may severely limit access to care.

Examples from the Associated Press,

Primary care physicians already are in short supply in parts of the country, and the landmark health overhaul that will bring them millions more newly insured patients in the next few years promises extra strain.

The new law goes beyond offering coverage to the uninsured, with steps to improve the quality of care for the average person and help keep us well instead of today’s seek-care-after-you’re-sick culture. To benefit, you’ll need a regular health provider.

And other media, tell us as much. Now in general the United States has fewer physicians per capita than other western nations. And there are no doubt huge regional differences in physician supply. Parts of this country suffer from a severe deficiency in physicians in general, and primary care in particular.

But the fact is that, as much as we hear about the difficulty primary care has in attracting future physicians, the United States’ per capita primary care population compares pretty equatable to those of other nations. Other nations whose primary care delivery is generally considered more impressive.

Compare the primary care population to that of Australia and New Zealand or to the United Kingdom. Sure we trail two of the three, but not on the order of magnitudes.

Again, the anecdotes will be out there. No doubt incorporating a huge new patient population into the mess but a crisis is more difficult to believe.