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Is There A Doctor In The House? Survey Sheds Light On Physician Capacity, Morale, Shortages, And Patient Access


September 17th, 2014

There is ongoing debate over whether there are enough physicians to care for millions of new patients. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States currently faces a shortage of 20,000 physicians – a shortfall that could exceed 130,000 physicians by 2025. In addressing these challenges, it is critical to take into consideration the shifting patterns in medical practice configurations, changing dynamics inherent within physician workforce trends, and the potential impact on patient access to care.

The Physicians Foundation’s new survey of more than 20,000 physicians examines these issues and provides insight into physician capacity and morale, changing medical practice configurations, and shifting physician workforce trends and demographics.

Physician Capacity and Morale – What Does This Mean for Patient Access?

According to the new survey results, eight out of ten (81 percent) physicians describe themselves as either over-extended or at full capacity, while only 19 percent indicate they have time to see more patients. In fact, 13 percent of physicians no longer accept Medicare patients – this is up 49 percent in 2014 from 2012.

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Rethinking Graduate Medical Education Funding: An Interview With Gail Wilensky


September 9th, 2014

A recent Institute of Medicine report has stirred controversy by proposing to significantly reshape the way Medicare graduate medical education funding is distributed. However, before the panel that wrote the report grappled with how the federal government should fund GME, it had to decide whether the federal government should be involved in the area at all.

“We struggled with the rationale [for a federal role] from the first meeting to the last time we convened,” Gail Wilenksy, who co-chaired the panel with Don Berwick, said in a recent interview with Health Affairs Blog.  After all, she said, the federal government “is not in the business of funding undergraduate medical education or other health care professions in any similar way, or funding other professions that are believed to be important to society and in shortage,” such as engineers, mathematicians, or scientists.

GME funding has been discussed at length in the pages of Health Affairs and will be the subject of a briefing sponsored by the journal tomorrow, Wednesday September 10. (Live and archived webcasts will be available for those who cannot attend in person.) Wilensky will offer opening remarks at the briefing. A summary of the GME report is provided in an earlier Health Affairs Blog post by Edward Salsberg, who will also participate in the briefing.

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Health Affairs Forum: Graduate Medical Education Governance And Financing


August 29th, 2014

Please join us on Wednesday, September 10, for a Health Affairs forum to discuss, Graduate Medical Education That Meets the Nation’s Health Needs, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education (GME). Health Affairs Founding Editor John Iglehart will host the event.

For the past two years, the committee – co-chaired by former CMS and HCFA administrators Donald Berwick and Gail Wilensky – conducted an independent review of the governing and financing of the GME system, and the report is a roadmap for policymakers for repairing and improving its deficiencies. The Health Affairs forum is one of the first opportunities interested parties will have to gather in a public setting to discuss and debate the committee’s proposals.

WHEN
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW

Follow Live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_GME.

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Seeing Clinician Slack As A Strategic Investment


August 1st, 2014

The French filmmaker Jean Renoir said, “the foundation of all civilization is loitering,” expressing the view that transformative value is created when people have time to step back and imagine a better way. Most businesses today seem to take a contrary position. Organizations in health care and beyond have spent a generation attacking slack, removing inefficiencies within processes and budgets. The narrow operating margins of health systems have led many to turn to companies such as Toyota or General Electric (GE) to learn about lean or Six Sigma techniques.

Subsequently, frontline clinicians are easy targets for attacks on slack. They are among the most expensive personnel within health systems and their productivity drives profitability. Working at the top of one’s license is set as a goal — reflecting the view that anything that can be delegated to a less expensive resource should be, and that everyone should be adding directly measurable peak value at all times.

A problem in translating lessons derived from general management experience is that even when conceptually appealing, they rarely meet medicine’s evidentiary standards defined by randomized trials or carefully controlled observations with homogenous populations, standardized interventions, and explicit outcomes. Instead, management lessons often take the form of stories – and perhaps only those selected to support a particular point.

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IOM Graduate Medical Education Report: Better Aligning GME Funding With Health Workforce Needs


July 31st, 2014

After nearly two years of deliberation, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education (GME) has issued its report. It presents a strong case for the need for change and a strong case for its recommendations.

The members of the Committee and the IOM are to be commended for their hard work, vision, and a high quality report. The report presents a clear path to a system that would help produce a physician workforce better aligned with the nation’s needs and a framework for a rational and defensible expenditure of nearly 15 billion dollars in public funds each year on GME.

Issues related to GME financing have been contentious for many years. In 1965, Congress included GME financing under Medicare reimbursement in what was intended to be a temporary arrangement. Nearly 50 years later, we are still trying to find a permanent and more rational way to finance and pay for the training of physicians as an alternative to the current complex, arcane formula built on Medicare inpatient days. Despite the well-documented shortcomings of the current system and numerous studies, attempts to find agreement on how to change and improve GME financing have been unsuccessful.

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Revisiting Primary Care Workforce Data: A Future Without Barriers For Nurse Practitioners And Physicians


July 28th, 2014

Editor’s note: Debra Barksdale and Kitty Werner also coauthored this post. 

With the full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), there have been major concerns about the looming primary care provider shortage. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis predicts shortages as high as 20,400 physicians by 2020, and increases in medical school graduates entering primary care residencies have been anemic.

Physician shortages can be addressed by the rapid growth of nurse practitioners (NPs), trained in primary care, along with the redesign of primary care to include teams that can be led by both physicians and NPs. But our nation’s primary care needs can only be met if states allow NPs to practice to the fullest extent of their training without unnecessary requirements for physician supervision.

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Health Affairs Web First: More US RNs Retire Later, Causing A Larger Workforce


July 16th, 2014

The size of the registered nurse (RN) workforce has surpassed forecasts from a decade ago, growing to 2.7 million in 2012 instead of peaking at 2.2 million as predicted. One less-noticed factor in this “nursing boom” is the decision by a growing number of RNs to delay retirement.

According to a new study being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, among registered nurses working at the age of fifty from 1991 to 2012, 24 percent continued working as of the age of sixty-nine. This compared to 9 percent of RNs still working at the age of sixty-nine in the period from 1969 to 1990.

Authors David Auerbach, Peter Buerhaus, and Douglas Staiger also found that as RNs tend to shift out of hospital settings as they age, employers may welcome the growing numbers of experienced RNs seeking employment in other settings. Auerbach is affiliated with the RAND Corp. in Boston, Massachusetts; Buerhaus with Vanderbilt University’s Institute of Medicine and Public Health in Nashville, Tennessee; and Staiger with Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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Asking The Wrong Question About Health Professionals


July 15th, 2014

I spent a significant part of my professional career pursuing “rational” policies to guide the numbers of health workers needed. I now understand that most of these moves on the policy side were fool’s errands, when measured against the powerful corrective forces of the labor and education markets.

In fact, the elasticity of these markets has been generally unanticipated by most of the workforce models. For instance, few recognized the shrinkage of incoming nursing classes in the waning years of the twentieth century. It was only in 2001, when the number of nurses passing the licensing exam fell to 28 percent, less than it had been just six years before, that alarm bells went off. New policies spurred the creation of schools, existing programs were expanded, and a raft of workplace changes were put in place to make nursing more attractive and sustainable. By 2005, more candidates passed the exam than in 1995, the previous high water mark. By 2009, the number had increased by 38 percent.

Similar unexpected market responses have been reflected in such trends as the growth of osteopathic medical colleges, expansion of proprietary allied health education, delayed retirement by many professionals, and a host of second-career entries into health professional work.

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ACAView: New Findings On The Effect Of Coverage Expansion Since January 2014


July 9th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Josh Gray, Iyue Sung also coauthored this post. 

Together, athenahealth and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have undertaken a new joint venture called ACAView, as part of the foundation’s Reform by the Numbers project, a source for timely and unique data on the impact of health reform.

The goal of ACAView is to provide current, non-partisan measurement and analysis on how coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is affecting the day-to-day practice of medicine. athenahealth provides a single-instance, cloud-based software platform to a national provider base.

Any information that our clients enter using our software is immediately aggregated into centrally hosted databases, providing us with timely visibility into patient characteristics, clinical activities, and practice economics at medical groups around the country.

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Correcting The Blind Spot In Accountability: The Role Of Pharmacy Care


June 25th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to William Shrank, this post is also coauthored by Andrew Sussman, Patrick Gilligan, and Troyen Brennan.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit suggestions about how to improve the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) programs. CMS stated that they seek recommendations about how the ACO program might evolve to “encourage greater care integration and financial accountability.”

The RFI explicitly stated that they seek information about how to better integrate Part D expenditures into ACO cost calculations to make pharmaceuticals part of the approach to care delivery and health care transformation.

The deadline for comments about encouraging Part D integration in ACOs has now passed. But the issue extends beyond ACOs. In addition, bundled payments and patient-centered medical home programs target hospitals and primary care providers to promote higher quality and lower cost care. All these programs have largely excluded prescription drug costs in their calculus, and offer no direct incentives for Part D plans to participate in and improve care.

Nonetheless, retail pharmacies and Part D plans have developed a number of strategies to participate. As CMS and policymakers reconsider ACO regulations to stimulate greater integration of prescription drug use in delivery system reform, we thought it important to offer a description of the marketplace response to payment reform activities at large.

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Course Correction: Better Preparing Today’s Nurses For 21st Century Health Care Service


June 20th, 2014

Nursing has always been considered a highly established profession with solid job security for many, even in the midst of troubling economic conditions. In fact, a recent US News and World Report’s list of the Best 100 Jobs shows both nurse and nurse practitioner in the Top 10.  And it’s a respected profession as well: A 2013 Gallup poll showed 82 percent of Americans rate the ethical and honesty standards of nurses as “high or very high,” the highest of all professions.

Yet despite talk of an impending nursing shortage over the next few years, some believe there is an even bigger crisis looming, one that stems from the very heart of the career — education.  Quite simply, nursing students are not as prepared as they should be for the “real world” of nursing and patient care.

This skills deficit is all-encompassing. There is a lack of the basic technical skills, such as physical assessment and emergency response. But the equal lack of “soft skills,” such as critical thinking, problem recognition, prioritization and recognition of urgency, and communication with physicians, is just as alarming.

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Sharp Increases In The Clinician Pipeline: Opportunity And Danger


June 9th, 2014

The number of health care practitioners educated in the United States has grown dramatically over the past decade. This post presents data on four key health care clinicians: nurse practitioners (NPs), pharmacists, physician assistants (PAs), and registered nurses (RNs). In some cases, the pipeline for these clinicians has more than doubled in recent years. Even if there is no further growth in the educational pipeline today, the increases in educational capacity, if continued, will lead to an increase in the available supply each year for the next 30 to 35 years.

If these practitioners are fully integrated into the delivery system and allowed to practice consistent with their education and training, this growth can help assure access to cost effective care across the nation. On the other hand, because of the 30 to 35 year tail in the growth of practitioners, there is a danger that this rapid growth could also lead to significant surpluses, which would have many negative consequences.

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Palliative Care: A New Direction For Education And Training


May 28th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a periodic Health Affairs Blog series on palliative care, health policy, and health reform. The series features essays adapted from and drawing on an upcoming volume, Meeting the Needs of Older Adults with Serious Illness: Challenges and Opportunities in the Age of Health Care Reform, in which clinicians, researchers and policy leaders address 16 key areas where real-world policy options to improve access to quality palliative care could have a substantial role in improving value.

If the needs of older adults with serious illness are to be met in ways that are different from today, then the education and training of physicians and nurses will need to be different.

The fundamental approach to decision-making for the older adult with serious illness needs to change from the standard approach to the palliative care approach. In the latter, overall goals of care are established for the patient in the context of his or her family. These goals take into account what is known about the illness, what is inevitable versus what is modifiable, the prognosis, and patient and family preferences. Then, plans to achieve these goals are established.

In contrast, the standard approach is to first, identify all of the problems through diagnostic testing and then to solve each of the biological problems. This approach has guided American medicine since the 1970s and assumes that a person’s health is the sum of the component biological parts.

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Chinese Doctors In Crisis: Discontented And In Danger


May 27th, 2014

Chinese doctors are unhappy about their pay and work conditions.  Moreover, they are in danger of physical attack by angry patients and families.  The Ministry of Health estimated that in 2010, 17,243 attack and agitation incidents occurred in Chinese hospitals, an increase of almost 7,000 over five years. Patients, bereaved families of patients who have died in hospitals, and sometimes paid protestors called yinao or “medical troublemakers,” invade hospitals, berate or attack staff, create loud disruptions, and stage mock funerals.

About 30 percent of the attacks were carried out by patients, 60 percent by family members, and the remainder by others, including yinao. About 75 percent of attacks were aimed at doctors.  According to a 2012 survey of nearly 6,000 Chinese physicians in 3,300 hospitals, 59 percent of doctors had been verbally assaulted and 6 percent had been physically assaulted. News accounts for 2002-2011 yielded 124 incidents of “serious violence” against hospitals, including 29 murders and 52 serious injuries. Often violence accompanies demands for cash compensation for harm to patients, including patient deaths in hospitals.

In response, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has recently announced a new set of security measures for hospitals. Approximately one thousand top-tier hospitals will now have a police presence in addition to their own security guards; alarm systems linked with local law enforcement; enhanced audio-visual surveillance systems; and security posts at entrances similar to those at airports.

The wave of violent attacks on doctors and other medical workers constitutes a significant problem in its own right.  But it is also a reflection of a broader set of problems faced by today’s generation of Chinese doctors.  They are badly paid, both in relation to doctors in other countries, and in relation to other Chinese professionals. As a result, doctors often supplement their low salaries in ways that strengthen the popular impression that they are corrupt, fostering still greater distrust and anger among their patients and patients’ families. A recent survey showed that 67 percent of the Chinese public does not trust doctors’ professional diagnoses and treatment.

The doctors themselves are also dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. A 2011 Chinese Medical Association survey of its members showed fewer than 20 percent of responding doctors to be satisfied with their medical practice environments, while 48 percent rated them “poor” or “very poor”. Doctors were particularly dissatisfied with their pay. They were also concerned about their work conditions.

When respondents were asked to identify sources of work pressure, the most frequent response, at 77 percent, was “high patient expectations.”  Only 21 percent wanted their own children to become doctors. Interestingly, this survey showed that fewer than 10 percent of respondents blamed patients, doctors, or hospitals for their problems; the majority (83 percent) blamed “the system” for the tension between doctors and patients.

In this post, we review that system and highlight sources of doctors’ discontent and the distrust between doctors and patients.

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The 2014 GME Residency Match Results: Is There Really A “GME Squeeze”?


April 24th, 2014

Each spring thousands of seniors at medical and osteopathic schools and other physicians apply for positions in graduate medical education (GME) training programs; simultaneously, thousands of training programs rank their preferred candidates. Based on the preferences of the medical student/physician applicants and the training programs, the two are matched by a sophisticated computer program. Since GME is a prerequisite to becoming licensed and practicing medicine in the US, this is a critical juncture in the education – training pipeline and provides a spotlight on the future physician workforce.

There are two matching systems: one administered by the National Residency Match Program (NRMP) for allopathic training positions, accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), that matches medical doctors (MDs), doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) and graduates of schools outside of the US, known as international medical school graduates (IMGs); and one for GME programs accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) that is limited to DOs. The following are among the highlights of the results of this year’s matches.

First year positions (PGY 1 positions) for entrants into GME reached an all-time high and the number continues to grow. This year, a record 26,678 first year positions were offered by the NRMP and an additional 2,988 first year positions were offered in the AOA sponsored match, for a total of 29,666 positions offered in 2014. (See Note 1) This represents an overall increase of 2.2 percent from 2013. (See Note 2) However, some of the NRMP increase may reflect the “all in” policy instituted by the NRMP effective in 2013. (See Note 3)

Entry level GME positions far outnumber the number of US medical and osteopathic graduates seeking a residency position. Despite a lot of rhetoric and fear that new US graduates are facing a lack of training slots, overall, there were about 22,300 US MD and DO seniors competing for the 29,666 first year positions.

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Recent Health Policy Briefs: Mental Health Parity And ICD-10 Update


April 3rd, 2014

The latest Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examines the issue of mental health parity. The push to make coverage for mental health treatment equal to that of physical health has been on legislative to-do lists for some time, both in Congress and in state houses. This brief looks […]

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Responding To ‘The Hidden Curriculum': Don’t Forget About The Patient


April 3rd, 2014

Narrative Matters readers might remember Joshua Liao’s moving essay about the dangers of the Hidden Curriculum. Liao, a resident physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote about the consequences of making a serious mistake as a medical student on an obstetrics rotation. He read the essay for the Narrative Matters podcast and it’s a great listen.

Liao’s essay, penned with Eric Thomas and Sigall Bell, also generated some compelling responses. It inspired Tim Lahey to write about his experience leading the curriculum redesign at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. And when the Washington Post ran an excerpt of Liao’s essay last week, it led Franca Posner to remind readers about “one missing piece of this puzzle”: the patient’s perspective.

Posner was once in a similar situation, but it was she on the hospital bed: “I was that woman 20 years ago, only I was almost 40 and had a 5-year-old child and five miscarriages in my reproductive history,” Posner wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Post’s Health and Science section on March 31.

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The Health Workforce: A Critical Component Of The Health Care Infrastructure


March 24th, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the first in a periodic series of Health Affairs Blog posts on health workforce issues by Edward Salsberg. Mr. Salsberg has spent over 30 years studying the health workforce, including nearly 20 years establishing and directing three centers dedicated to workforce data collection, analysis and research. The first center, at the University at Albany, was focused on state health workforce data collection and issues. The second, at the Association of American Medical Colleges, was focused on the physician workforce across the nation. The third, the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, was authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Salsberg has now joined the faculty at George Washington University where they are establishing a new Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy.

In the post below, Mr. Salsberg provides an overview of workforce issues. Future posts will discuss more specific health workforce questions and developments.

It could be argued that the health workforce — the people who provide direct patient care, as well as the staff that support caregivers and health care institutions — is the most significant component of the infrastructure of the health care system. Yet as a nation we have invested very little in collecting and analyzing health workforce data or in supporting the necessary research to inform effective public and private decision making. The results of this lack of investment are surpluses and shortages, significant mal-distribution, and less efficient and effective care than would be possible with better intelligence on our workforce needs.

For many health care professions, it takes years to build education and training capacity to increase, supply, or to change curriculum and modify the profession’s skill set. For these professions, we need to not only assess today’s needs but to project our future needs.

What the nation needs is a system to provide data, research findings, and information to thousands of individual stakeholders. This includes individuals considering a health career; colleges, universities and training programs that will educate and prepare them; the health organizations who will employ them; policy makers who need to decide what, if any, programs and policies to support; and the private sector that needs to decide whether to invest in workforce development. The responsibility for assuring an adequate supply and a well prepared health workforce is shared between the public and private sectors at both the national and the state and local level. Regardless of who is making the decisions related to health professions education and training capacity and health professions preparation, accurate and timely data is extremely important to support informed decisions.

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New Health Policy Brief: Transitioning To ICD-10


March 20th, 2014

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at an important change expected in the American health system later this year: the transition to the ICD-10 coding system by all health providers for diagnoses and inpatient procedures. ICD stands for the International Classification of Diseases, which is maintained by the World Health Organization. The ICD system, which began in the nineteenth century, is periodically revised to incorporate changes in the practice of medicine.

While the most current version, ICD-10, has been used in most countries since its initial adoption in 1990, the United States has until now limited its use to the coding and classification of mortality data from death certificates. This brief examines the debates that have accompanied the broad conversion in this country to ICD-10, set to take place on October 1, 2014.

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The Dangers Of Quality Improvement Overload: Insights From The Field


March 7th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is also co-authored by Ksenia O Gorbenko, Catherine van de Ruit, and Charles Bosk of the University of Pennsylvania.

Quality improvement (QI) and patient safety initiatives are created with the laudable goal of saving lives and reducing “preventable harms” to patients. As the number of QI interventions continues to rise, and as hospitals become increasingly subject to financial pressures and penalties for hospital-acquired conditions (HACs), we believe it is important to consider the impact of the pressure to improve everything at once on hospitals and their staff.

We argue that a strategy that capitalizes on “small wins” is most effective. This approach allows for the creation of steady momentum by first convincing workers they can improve, and then picking some easily obtainable objectives to provide evidence of improvement.

National Quality Improvement Initiatives

Our qualitative team is participating in two large ongoing national quality improvement initiatives, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Each initiative targets a single HAC and its reduction in participating hospitals. We have visited hospital sites across six states in order to understand why QI initiatives achieve their goals in some settings but not others. To date, we have conducted over 150 interviews with hospital workers ranging from frontline staff in operating rooms and intensive care units to hospital administrators and executive leadership. In interviews for this ethnographic research, one of our interviewees warned us about unrealistic expectations for change, “you cannot go from imperfect to perfect. It’s a slow process.”

While there is much to learn about how to achieve sustainable QI in the environment of patient care, one thing is certain from the growing wisdom of ethnographic studies of QI: buy-in from frontline providers is essential for creating meaningful change. Front-line providers often bristle at expectations from those they believe have little understanding of the demands of their daily work. Requiring health care providers to improve on all mandated measures at once—in an atmosphere of reduced reimbursements and frequent staff shortages—is a goal that risks burnout, discouragement, and apathy – all signs of initiative fatigue.

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