KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Statistics Highlight The Looming Doctor Shortage

A doctor shortage is proving problematic as fewer medical students go into primary care. USA Today reports: "The number of U.S. medical school students going into primary care has dropped 51.8% since 1997, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Considering it takes 10 to 11 years to educate a doctor, the drying up of the pipeline is a big concern to health-care experts. The AAFP is predicting a shortage of 40,000 family physicians in 2020, when the demand is expected to spike. The U.S. health care system has about 100,000 family physicians and will need 139,531 in 10 years." Currently, only about half the necessary number "needed to meet demand" are pursuing this specialty.

"At the heart of the rising demands on primary-care physicians will be the 78 million Baby Boomers born from 1946 to 1964, who begin to turn 65 in 2011 and will require increasing medical care, and the current group of underserved patients. If Congress passes health care legislation that extends insurance coverage to a significant part of the 47 million Americans who lack insurance," need will increase. "The primary-care doctor - a category that includes family physicians, general internists and general pediatricians - has been held up as the gatekeeper in keeping people out of emergency rooms and controlling health care costs. But medical analysts say giving this limited pool of doctors responsibility for millions more patients is problematic" (Lloyd, 8/17).

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