Physician shortage is worse than expected, VCU study suggests

Posted at 5:58 PM, Sep 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-28 17:58:34-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A new Virginia Commonwealth University study suggests healthcare workforce shortages are worse than expected and will likely continue to worsen into the future.

The study suggests the number of active primary care physicians in Virginia is about 25% smaller than originally expected. That study looked at data from 2015-2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. About 5,899 primary care physicians were counted in the study.

Dr. Alison Huffstetler, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at VCU who assisted with the study, said resources were limited, as many clinics closed their doors, sending patients elsewhere.

"In contrast to people staying away from medicine, they actually continued to see us and we continued to provide care during the pandemic. So, it was a lot of added stressors without an increased capacity during COVID-19," Dr. Huffstetler said.

According to the Robert Graham Center and its Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, the Primary Care Provider ration of 1,462:1 is lower than the national average.

Those stressors continue to impact a healthcare workforce stretched thin.

“This is part of why visits are only 15 minutes, and you may only get seven minutes to spend with the doctor. This is why it takes days to respond to messages because patient panels are too large, and the influx of messaging can be really big from a large patient panel. And it also means that you might actually have to drive pretty far to get to a primary care doctor from your home," Huffstetler said. 

Letha Jeffers, of Chesterfield, told CBS 6 she has always had an issue getting an appointment. 

Jeffers said they had a primary care physician before knee surgery, but the nurse practitioner she was seeing transferred to VCU, and other doctors in the office could not accommodate her needs. Now goes to Patient First if the need arises. 

However, staffing shortages and other workforce struggles are impacting physicians there, too. 

Patient First announced this week it would be shortening its hours from 8 a.m. -10 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"This adjustment to our hours of operation will permit Patient First to continue to provide convenient, friendly medical care on a reliable and consistent basis, as it has done for over 40 years," a company spokesperson told CBS 6.

Dr. Huffstetler said she's had to cut her hours, too. 

“I’m part time clinical, part time research, so once my panel reached about 500-600 people, I’m only in clinic two days a week, that was all I could handle safely and comprehensively and thoughtfully, so I closed my patient panel too," she said. 

She's encouraging the research to help spur policy makers to provide more funding for healthcare positions, citing the possibility that the shortage will worsen. 

"We think that we’re on the precipice of a bunch of retirements. So, there’s a generation of doctors leaving the workforce and we don’t know how that will be replaced specifically within primary care in the coming years.”

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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