Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. was combatting a shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) – one that is most pronounced in rural or underserved areas. While the pandemic placed significant strains on primary care practices, the reality of a shortage of these critical healthcare professionals still looms.
Range of Factors Affecting PCP Shortage.
Complicating the supply and demand picture of primary care physicians today, and in the future, is the fact that there are numerous factors at play – all of which are projected to compound the problem of PCP shortages.
- Demographic Factors.
- Deferred Care
- Lack of PCPs in Rural Areas
Solutions to the PCP Shortage.
While Congress recently voted to add graduate medical education funding to last year’s COVID-19 relief package and support 1,000 new residency slots, this increase will not come close to bridging the gap between physician supply and demand. There are; however, several emerging strategies that, if adopted, could help diminish the impact of PCP shortages.
Health insurers and healthcare systems are increasingly implementing new care delivery models that provide primary care physicians more support for delivering team-based care alongside other providers, such as nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs).
As these professionals are increasingly able to practice at the top of their license, physicians can better manage the care of patients with the most chronic and pressing healthcare needs while other members of the team could deliver care to those with less critical needs. Perhaps most important, the supply of NPs and PAs is projected to grow, allowing these healthcare professionals to start closing the gap of primary care delivery.
Increased Telehealth Adoption
With the pandemic greatly accelerating the use of telemedicine, it is largely projected to remain a permanent stable of American healthcare and allowing physicians to reach more patients. In addition to offsetting decreased access to in-person care due to the pandemic, the use of telehealth stands to greatly improve access in rural and other underserved areas.
According to one telemedicine technology provider, the usage of their platform has enabled care delivery to 98% of rural, underserved areas. Given that PCPs aren’t geographically distributed in direct proportion to the population, there is a mismatch between supply and demand in many communities. Telemedicine offers a solution to this challenge, offering patients access to a wider network of doctors while eliminating geography as a barrier to access care.
Innovative Staffing Solutions
One of the most cost-effective solutions to PCP staffing shortages is to engage locum tenens to help fill temporary vacancies or projected needs. Particularly as healthcare entities are navigating the ebbs and flows of patient census as the country rebuilds post-pandemic, locum tenens allow healthcare employers to reduce costs by filling positions as needed.
In addition, it can often take many months to locate and credential the right PCP to join a facility permanently, so taking advantage of locum tenens providers during the search may help prevent dramatic drops in revenue while engaging a search firm to secure a long-term hire.
Also, innovative healthcare employers are choosing to secure NP or PA locum tenens to help deliver quality, continuous care to patients when short staffed. These advanced practice providers (APPs) comprise roughly 30% of the U.S. healthcare workforce and nearly 90% of the country’s NPs were prepared in primary care in 2019.
As a trusted staffing partner to leading healthcare organizations across the U.S., Cross Country Locums continually monitors and analyzes key market dynamics of the primary care physician sector. To learn more about current labor trends for PCPs, download our latest Market Snapshot.