A few weeks ago, I told you about Chris Nussbaum, MD, who founded Synergy Medical Group, an independent hospitalist group in Tampa Bay. He shared his observation about the lack of physicians who are willing to enter primary care.
"There isn't a whole lot of attraction to [primary care] unless you have a particularly altruistic person," he said. "Most physicians are, but we want to make a living, too."
From time to time these types of opinions get support from reliable studies. Case in point, the Massachusetts Medical Society just released findings that show a shortage of physicians in primary care, psychiatry and six other specialties.
The Medical Society says this is a critical issue for the state's community hospitals: 54 percent report shortages in internal medicine, and 43 percent report shortages in family practice.
The society's study was picked up this week by the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out the irony of a doctor shortage in a state that's trying to implement universal coverage. (You're going to need a subscription to read the story--sorry.)
"Massachusetts may be leading the nation in healthcare reform," B. Dale Magee, MD, president of the Medical Society, said in a prepared statement. "But we're falling behind in a critical aspect of patient care, and that's the supply of physicians."
For those physicians willing to practice in the Bay State, 48 percent report that they have limited or altered their services because of fear of being sued, according to the study.
A different report that came out this week confirmed that hospitals continue to be interested in employing physicians. Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a national physician search and consulting firm, tracks physician recruitment trends and annually releases a Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives.
In analyzing over 3,000 recruiting assignments from April 2006 until March 2007, the firm found that hospitals offered employment to physicians in 43 percent of the searches, which was up from just 23 percent the prior year.
Phil Miller, spokesman for the firm, said that hospitals continue to respond to a need to staff high-demand specialties, but now they are also looking to employ primary care providers who can refer patients to specialty service lines. All of this points to a practice paradigm shift in which physicians are more willing to give up the independence of working as an independent contractor or medical group employee for the stability and convenience of hospital employment.
Rick Johnson is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.