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VA Hospital Fiasco a Harbinger on Nation's Physician Shortage

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, June 4, 2014

The big problem at the VA is that it's competing for doctors with every hospital in the country, physician practices, insurance companies, urgent care centers, retail clinics, and community health centers.

This ongoing scandal surrounding long waiting times for physician appointments at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals has generated an array of justifiable responses including grief, anger and embarrassment.

It should not, however, generate surprise. The long waiting lines at the 150 VA hospitals across the nation are largely because of staff shortages. The New York Times reports that the VA is trying to recruit 400 primary care physicians.

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. was spot on when he said: "There is no solving the wait list issue without first solving the staffing issue."

This problem won't be solved in a few weeks or with reassuring sound bites, quick fixes, the resignation of VA Chief Eric Shinseki, made-for-TV Congressional inquiries, campaign grandstanding, or even money.

This shortage will last as long as it takes to figure out a way to treat people without a reliance on primary care physicians, or until we can train sufficient numbers of new primary care physicians to replace the growing ranks of their retiring older colleagues. We're talking years, perhaps a decade or longer.

We've been hearing about the "looming physician shortage" for decades. It looms no longer. It has dropped upon us and it's not going away soon.

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2 comments on "VA Hospital Fiasco a Harbinger on Nation's Physician Shortage"


Mark (6/6/2014 at 1:36 PM)
This is not new to the VA. My father went through the same thing 15 years ago. It took our State Senator to get involved then we found he was one 1,000's WWII vets whose files were "misplaced". The cause is mismanagement of a marginalize group of people that came from the "silent majority" or "greatest generation" as Tom Brokaw call them in his book. They just took it and did not complain. Message here is you don't have to take it because you are a vet. The whole country is behind you on this.

J. Kuriyan (6/4/2014 at 2:48 PM)
This is another one of the artificial methods adopted by various medical associations to maximize physician charges - keep their supply low. It is time for ACA to free the Universities to gradaute as many doctors as the country needs - not follow AMA's guidelines to Universities. Sure there will be an over supply at some time in the future but the market will correct for it. But the VA's problem is much more serious and tragic. VA is supposed to have a good EMR but I wonder how it hid so many of these missed appointments.