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Solving Workforce Woes: 4 Practical Reforms Providers Should Consider

By Jack O'Brien  
   February 21, 2018

A working paper from George Mason University argues the provider workforce needs to modernize medical school education, welcome foreign-trained physicians, hire more nonphysicians, and embrace emerging technology.

In the face of a worsening nationwide physician shortage, health providers should look to developing more avenues for doctors to join the workforce, according to a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Jeffrey Flier, MD, of Harvard Medical School, and Jared Rhoads, MPH, MS, of Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, released a working paper Tuesday entitled “The US Health Provider Workforce: Determinants and Potential Paths to Enhancement.”

The authors argue that over-regulation for medical practitioner credentialing by state government organizations has resulted in significant protections from local and international competition for members. This creates a challenge to instituting reforms, though the study suggests four steps can affect change outside of the regulatory system.  

The study includes several recommendations to address the core issues surrounding the severe physician shortage facing providers. These include a call to remove barriers to create more medical schools in the U.S., hire more foreign-trained physicians, utilize nonphysician providers, and embrace innovative technological options.

Below are four recommendations for health providers to consider as practical reforms to improve quality and reduce cost.

1. Minimize barriers to license doctors

The authors argue that problems persist with the accreditation process conducted by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which is in charge of accrediting U.S. medical schools. While accreditation is voluntary for schools, individuals are not able to obtain a physician’s license without taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which requires an LCME-accredited school graduation, the authors state.

U.S. medical schools, however, lack available openings for applicants, charge high prices for attendance, and are unlikely to pursue meaningful medical experimentation and innovation due to the high-stakes nature of the accreditation process.

The authors suggest the answer to these problems might be the development of future medical schools that are attached to integrated health systems (IHS) rather than universities. Mirroring what Kaiser Permanente has pursued, the study states that such an approach has the potential to provide better efficiencies, education and delivery of healthcare.

Though the study admits that critics believe future medical schools attached to IHSs could create a two-tiered medical school system, the authors argue the current system is no better.

Jack O'Brien is an associate editor at HealthLeaders. 

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