Mid-Level Providers Fill the Primary Care Gap

posted on: December 5, 2018    |    by: Julia Beam

A shortage in primary care physicians threatens access to care in coming years, especially for our growing population of patients over the age of 65. The Association of American Medical College (AAMC) reported that the overall U.S. population is going to increase by 11% by 2030 and the population over 65 is going to increase by 50%.

The AAMC reported that primary care physicians are expected to decrease from 14,800 to 49,300 by 2030 which will leave a primary care shortage of up to 120,000. Since the population over 65 has a high demand for primary care physicians, this is a huge indication that we need more trained professionals in primary care.

Data trends for visits to primary care physicians is steadily dropping and this could be due to two influencing factors. That is, primary care appointments are generally scheduled out several weeks and there are alternatives available for more immediate needs.

Primary care appointments are generally unavailable for several weeks so this may be a deterrent and result in less primary care visits. The Health Care Cost Institute reported that visits to primary care physicians dropped 18% between 2012 and 2016 for adults under the age of 65. This data is no surprise considering that it takes an average of 24 days to see a primary care physician as a new patient and this number has been steadily increasing (Becker’s Hospital Review).

There is a measurable transition to non-physician clinicians such as Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Physician Assistants (PAs), which is a promising solution to a growing gap in primary care. During the period, 2012-2016, office visits to nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) increased 129%, an increase of 88 visits per 1,000 for insured individuals (Health Care Cost Institute). Fortunately, these numbers are expected to go up as the primary care shortage goes up.

With the decreasing amount of primary care physicians and a growing population, the accepted transition to more visits to mid-level providers is a welcomed change. It is promising that there are models like WellNow’s retail medical clinic and telemedicine show us that solutions to the primary care shortage crisis is already in full swing!

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