March 28th, 2013
Most experts agree that primary care needs to be re-invented. There are a lot of promising ingredients of practice redesign: better scheduling, electronic medical records with patient portals, redesigned clinician workflow, and work sharing. Linda Green’s intriguing article in the January Health Affairs simulates a strategic combination of these changes and argues if they all happened at once, we would have no primary care physician shortage.
Even if we make much more effective use of clinical time and energy, however, Green’s formula isn’t going to get us far enough fast enough. The baby boom generation of physicians is fast nearing its “sell by” date. In 2010, one quarter of the 242,000 primary care physicians in the US were 56 or older. One in six general internists left their practices in mid-career. Many more hardworking clinicians delayed retirement due to the 2008 financial collapse.
Few manpower specialists have noted the cohort effect likely to manifest itself shortly. A continued economic recovery and, more importantly, a recovery in retirement plan and medical real estate asset values will lead as many as 100,000 physicians of all stripes to leave practice in the next few years. We will be replacing a generation of workaholic, 70-hour-a-week baby boom physicians with Gen Y physicians with a revealed preference for 35-hour work weeks. During this same period, we’ll be adding 3 million new Medicare beneficiaries a year and enfranchising perhaps 25 million newly insured folks through health reform. “Train wreck” is the right descriptor of the emerging primary care supply situation.Read the rest of this entry »