The fast-approaching physician shortage has created a demand for specific types of physicians, one of which in highest demand is primary care. According the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the percentage of the current physician workforce that is practicing primary care is at an all-time low. The AAMC projects a shortage of primary care physicians around 14,900 to 35,600 by 2025. As demand outpaces supply faster for primary care than any of the specialty groups, the already insufficient supply of primary care physicians is likely to intensify.1
The deficit in primary care physicians is due to a number of factors. An increase in health insurance coverage for an estimated 11 million Americans through the Affordable Care Act has led to increased utilization of primary care doctors as there is an association between having insurance and increased use of health services. Another factor contributing to the increase in demand is the aging population. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physician supply will increase only 7% in the next 10 years, but the population over the age of 65 who will need medical care the most is going to increase by 36%.2 The declining number of medical students choosing primary care specialties due to the noncompetitive salary and fewer residency slots also contributes to the deficit in primary care physicians. 3
Understanding the primary care physician shortage is important for healthcare organizations for several reasons. Healthcare delivery systems are focusing more on wellness, prevention, team-based care, and managing chronic illnesses which all require the use of primary care physicians. According to the Merritt Hawkins, primary care doctors are also the most requested recruiting assignments which healthcare systems need to be aware of as demand outpaces supply.4 Health Professional Shortage Areas develop by the lack of primary care services in certain geographical areas which then become medically undeserved. The primary care shortage is only going to exacerbate these problem areas resulting in the importance of addressing the shortage and addressing physician placement.5
The primary care physician shortage also affects consumerism and how the patients are choosing to acquire their primary care services. Non-physician clinicians are delivering substantial amounts of primary care services to consumers. According to the Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI), surveys found most people who see health professionals, other than physicians, are pleased with their experience and would rather see a non-physician clinician if it meant receiving more timely care. Another nontraditional alternative consumers are seeking for delivery of care are retail or urgent care clinics. The INQRI found that consumers find retail clinics convenient, immediacy, economically viable, and commodious, due to their extended hours, as just a few of the reasons to choose this outlet for primary care services.6
With the potential to grow the physician workforce, the hope is to foresee an emphasis in the growth in primary care. Suggestions to mitigate the shortage include a combination of solutions such as increasing funding for residency slots in primary care and supplementation with non-physician clinicians just as, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Planning for the future and embracing solutions could hypothetically minimize the potential effects of the primary care physician shortage.