Healthcare Workforce Planning Techniques Lagging

John Commins, October 26, 2011

Projecting future healthcare workforce demand is a backward-looking process that doesn't account for new technologies and other changes that greatly impact labor forecasts, according to a study from the Bipartisan Policy Center's Health Professional Workforce Initiative.

"We use a rear-view mirror. We always use lag indicators," says Paul Keckley, executive director of The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, and the author a new study The Complexities of National Health Care Workforce Planning.

"It's a pretty simple formula. You take population growth times aging times prevalence of disease. How may are diabetic? How many have heart disease? Then we figure based on history that we need 2.2 visits per primary care doctor per year per capita. Then we add those up and come up to a shortage of 28,000 to 91,000 doctors."

New and immediate technologies that could greatly reduce in-person visits to the doctors' offices are not factored into this equation. "That assumes that all of those 2.2 visits were necessary and there were no other options that were either more attractive or affordable to consumers, like an e-visit," Keckley says.

"About 40% of visits to primary care physicians do not require physical examinations. You don't need to go to a doctor's office to get a script refilled, so we shouldn't be calculating the number of visits to doctors historically as the basis for determining how many we are going to need in the future when we have technologies that will replace some of that demand," he explains.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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