It’s not a surprise but it continues to be a problem: There simply aren’t enough primary care physicians.
As the population ages, there is a growing demand for medical care. Some specialties that address chronic illness or geriatric services face escalating difficulties, but primary care is the foundation of healthcare, often serving as the entry point for patients. Without primary care clinicians, many communities (a particular challenge in rural areas) do not have access to care.
The shortage is getting worse. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects there will be a primary care physician shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 doctors by 2034.
What causes this?
There are a number of factors at play in the current physician shortage – from burnout to an aging workforce, or even new career opportunities outside of traditional medicine. Hospitals and medical practices across the country are looking for solutions that address physician shortages and cement a sustainable future.
Recently, we worked with a large medical practice in Arizona with multiple locations. Although all healthcare systems are experiencing the effects of the physician labor shortage, this client was charting towards a serious loss of primary care physicians which left them unable to meet the needs of their patients in this region. We profiled their journey in a case study—Restoring Primary Care With APP-run Hybrid Model.
The practice found its way to a sustainable solution, in part, by doing these three things:
Understanding Time is a Valuable Resource
In exit interviews with departing physicians, the medical practice in Arizona learned clinicians were frustrated with the care model. At the heart of the problem, primary care physicians said they spent too much time fulfilling administrative tasks, like refilling and managing patient prescriptions. They believed this was a bad use of their time and hampered their ability to care for patients.
They were right. Medical practices must use their resources properly to ensure value for patients and the practice. That means properly aligning talent. In this case, physician time would be best spent addressing complex cases instead of handling mundane tasks. The facility recognized this and reallocated resources to change the model.
Getting the Most from Clinicians
Physicians and APPs lead the care team, but they must be allowed to practice at appropriate levels. For physicians, in many cases, that means direct patient care. For APPs, they need the freedom to practice to the top of their license. Too often, APPs are siloed and unable to deliver care at a high level. In many states, they are allowed to deliver basic medical care independently.
In the case of the medical practice in Arizona, they added more APPs to the care model to alleviate physician time. That had a massive impact on many of the frustrations physicians felt, but also greatly increased access and speed of care.
Thinking Outside the Box
It’s easy to do things the way they’ve always been done. In truth, it’s a trap. The status quo is not good enough. We need to constantly be looking for ways to improve our care model, instead of allowing stagnation to reign. In this case, that meant thinking outside the box and adopting a flexible care model.
The medical practice enlisted a dual-pronged hybrid care model that enlisted both APPs and physicians in a virtual and onsite setting. APPs served as the primary source of telehealth services. This gave them the flexibility to address the medical need in the proper setting, while increasing access to care for all patients. It was a vital lift for the practice and its clinicians.
In all, LocumTenens.com provided 12 primary care-credentialled APPs. Six of those clinicians were ultimately hired to permanent positions as they further adopted a hybrid model.
The success of this program sets the tone for how medical practices across the country are looking at physician shortages. There are solutions, but it is not one-size-fits all. Each facility needs to find a partner to help them align their goals with their resources while overcoming the unique obstacles they face.
To learn more about this case study and how LocumTenens.com helped this large medical practice find a scalable solution, read Restoring Primary Care With APP-run Hybrid Model.