Are more doctors the solution for shortage?

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Graduating more physicians in light of the impending doctor shortage and an aging population may not be the right approach, say some health care providers.

An article written by Jeffrey O. Greenberg and Henry Greenberg, published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website of the National Institutes for Health, calls for the Association of American Medical Colleges to address the question: Are more physicians the answer to the growing shortage of doctors in the nation?

The article cites the AAMC’s’ call for medical schools to increase the number of graduates by 30 percent. This call is in response to the increasing number of elderly patients with chronic illnesses.

In the article, the Greenbergs question whether graduating more physicians is the answer to the growing physician shortage problem in the United States. Instead, they call for increasing the number of physician assistants or advanced nurse practitioners joining in a team approach to chronic health care. In the team approach, the physician would lead the team, with others trained to effectively address the issues.

This approach “offers the opportunity to enhance efficiency, improve quality, reduce hospitalization and meet evidence-based mandates,” the Greenberg article states.

“Such a workforce transition can become the inaugural step in converting the entire health care system from treatment based to prevention and management based.”

Dr. Elliott S. Fisher, professor of medicine and co-director of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, agreed.

“Our problem isn’t a shortage of physicians,” Fisher wrote in an article for the Wall Street Journal online. “It is a failure to organize care.”

Fisher said between 20 percent and 30 percent of services provided by health care practitioners are unnecessary.

“Instead of overworked primary-care physicians delivering every bit of care, new team-based approaches leverage other health professionals and technology to help patients care for themselves and avoid unnecessary visits,” Fisher wrote.