The shortage of primary care providers in the United States has long been projected by the AAMC, and now expected to amount to a “shortfall of between 14,900 and 35,600 primary care physicians” by 2015, per a 2016 report.
That shortage has now become a reality, and is actively affecting the care continuum in unexpected ways. In August, the Mayo Clinic announced its decision to consolidate "most inpatient services" from one facility in southern Minnesota to another. Mayo officials attributed the decision to "a provider shortage, a ‘sharp decrease’ in the demand for inpatient services and a reduction in reimbursement levels,” writes Sarah Stultz for the Albert Lea Tribune.
The “sharp decrease” in demand for inpatient services at the two facilities — Albert Lea and Austin, both cities within 70 miles of Mayo’s primary Rochester campus — is no doubt a contributing factor, as is the fact that they’re both within the orbit of the main Mayo Clinic campus, where some treatments are inevitably outsourced.
Yet Mayo officials made it clear that the “decrease in inpatient utilization combines with a struggle in recruiting and retaining physicians,” as Stultz writes (emphasis ours).
“In the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin had 102 hospitalist shifts that were unable to be staffed internally at both locations that had to be staffed through locum tenens coverage,” Stultz notes.
“Both campuses have reportedly had numerous physician positions across several departments that they have been unable to fill — in some cases for years.”
The cities in question aren’t exactly rural, with a combined population of more than 40,000. Nor are they among the state’s 18 Federally Qualified Health Centers (as defined by this official 2015 state list). So why would an organization of Mayo’s stature struggle to recruit physicians within 90 minutes of the nation’s 16th-largest metropolitan area?
Factors Contributing to America’s Primary Care Shortage
Though America’s rural care shortage is now commonly referred to as a crisis, the central issue underlying America’s primary care shortage isn’t completely dictated by geography, but also by:
• An aging population — by 2030, one in five Americans will be eligible for Medicare, “with people 65 and older expected to account for almost 20 percent of the nation’s population by then,” reports U.S. News & World Report.
• An aging workforce — according to our 2016 survey of physicians aged 55 and older, the number of doctors planning to retire is "significantly greater” than the number of physicians expected to enter the workforce during the same time frame.
• More access to healthcare among patients — although this ongoing efforts to change the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could change this, as of August 2017, there were “20.5 million fewer uninsured Americans than since 2010,” reports CNBC.
Indeed, these are the widely recognized factors behind the surge in locum tenens seen in recent years. In our widely-cited 2017 locum tenens survey, 94% of healthcare facilities told us that they’d utilized locum professionals at some point in the past year. Representing nearly 19 out of every 20 healthcare facilities that use locums, that’s an astounding figure in its own right—and even more so when particularly compared to the 74% who told us they use locum workers just four years earlier in 2012.
“Virtually every hospital in the United States now uses locum tenens doctors,” Staff Care’s president said on the occasion of the release of our 2017 survey. “They are emerging as a key part of the medical workforce in an era of physician shortages and evolving delivery models.”
If you represent a healthcare facility and you're interested in learning more about how locum tenens staffing services can help you weather the primary care shortage in your area, we encourage you to contact us here to speak to a Staff Care representative today. You can also submit a locums staffing request using the form on this page.
Contact Staff Care