Health care organizations work to combat the doctor shortage

It is well known that many states face a doctor shortage, but it is a prominent issue in Arizona and a variety of organizations are working to address the issue.

“We’re hearing more from our customers that it’s taking longer to get appointments just because of the doctor shortage. And, that’s concerning,” Kim Shepard, market president for Cigna in Arizona, said. “We don’t want people putting off health care because they can’t get in to see their doctor in a timely fashion.”

According to the Robert Graham Center, Arizona will need an additional 1,941 primary care physicians (PCP) by 2030. The state had 3,808 PCP in 2010, so it would need to see a 50 percent increase.

“This is a multi-faceted issue,” Nick Goodman, CEO of MomDoc said. “Arizona’s physician shortage is at near emergent levels. We are experiencing low reimbursement rates, inadequate growth in residency slots, and high workload leading to physician burnout.”

The health care community has a variety of strategies to address the doctor shortage in Arizona. One approach is to strengthen the way in which the state’s health care system attracts and retains talent.

“It’s about making certain that they stay here in Arizona to do their residency because chances are if they do their residency here in Arizona, they’re going to stay here and establish their practice,” Jennifer Carusetta, Health System Alliance of Arizona (HSAA) executive director, explained.

She added that it’s important to encourage physicians to stay in Arizona because “those are high-paying jobs, those are physicians who are prepared to treat people here in the community, here in our hospitals- it’s a wonderful thing for Arizona.”

In terms of attraction, HSAA partnered with the physician community and the legislature to streamline the licensure process to efficiently and quickly recruit physicians to Arizona.

“So, it’s looking at those processes, as well, to make certain they work as quickly as possible so there’s no delay in bringing physicians to work here,” Carusetta said. “And that makes us really competitive with other states when it comes to recruitment strategies.”

As a health insurer, Cigna works to ensure its customers receive the medical care they need and attracting more primary care physicians can make that happen.

“I want to make sure that all of us are finding ways to make primary care relevant and make sure those physicians feel both respected and rewarded for the work they do,” Shepard said. “So, I think that’s going to be fundamental for us to fix that crisis going forward.”

Various organizations also develop innovative strategies to retain physicians.

One way is through addressing provider burnout, which can happen when providers have a high number of patients with many demands.

“We are actively working to be thoughtful of the ways we can support the providers working within our system to combat burnout,” Carusetta said.

One of the reasons physicians may burnout is the amount of red tape. “Instead of spending a majority of time providing actual care with the patient, doctors are spending so much time on the burden of administration, documentation, billing, and contractual obligations of insurance,” Goodman notes. “Most doctors do not find joy in the peripheral responsibilities of care. They became doctors to care for people. And they are getting lost in the endless whirlpool of red tape”.

Addressing the doctor shortage can strengthen the state’s economy in a variety of ways, including tourism.

“We’re actually a huge destination for medical tourism, Carusetta said. “We have a lot of cutting edge medical research that happens here, a lot of technology.”

She explained that Arizona’s health care development attracts patients from all over the world for treatment services.

“And when they come here, they bring their dollars with them. We never want to curtail that, healthcare is actually one of the most important sectors of the Arizona economy,” Carusetta said.

She added that when “you don’t have enough providers to support that sector of the economy you won’t be able to support that level of tourism that’s real value in terms of dollars for our state economy. When those folks come here, they’re staying in our hotels, they’re eating in our restaurants. That’s something we want to make certain we can offer to the people of the world.”

Sierra Ciaramella

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