The healthcare crisis we’ve not heard much about lately is America’s shortage of primary care doctors. Our number of graduating medical students entering primary care has dropped by more than half since 1997, and the shortage of family doctors has been projected to reach 40,000 in the next 10 years. Keep in mind, these projections pre-date the passing of President Obama’s sweeping healthcare reform law, which is estimated to bring in 32 million additional people into the health insurance market over the next few years.
No matter what side of the healthcare reform debate you fall on, most people agree that America’s shortage of primary care physicians has to be addressed. We can expect (and hope) that many of the newly insured will be actually seeking out doctor relationships for the first time. I suspect that finding a primary care physician will be step #1 for the majority, increasing the demand for PCP’s exponentially. It’s hard to say for sure, but many experts believe we’ll see a 10-20 % increase in primary-care visits due to the passing of the law.
Telemedicine is a big part of the solution. Surveys show that as many as half of PCP’s have stopped taking new patients, and many of those who do require lengthy wait times for scheduling an in-person appointment (sometimes months). Though the new legislation does provide some nominal incentives to encourage young doctors to enter primary care, these have been generally viewed as slow-moving and not strong enough to move the needle. The rise of Telemedicine, however, CAN move the needle with regards to absorbing the rapidly growing demand for primary care treatment. The physician burden is dramatically eased as more and more Americans seek physician care remotely, at the time that works best for them. Families will obviously still need PCP’s, but Telemedicine will help solve the problem by bridging the gap to access so many families face.