2014 Public Health Year-in-Review: Part 1

As 2014 comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on public health issues that have made a significant impact in the field of health. The next 4 weeks will be part of a year-in-review series of the Ten Biggest Public Health Issues of 2014. This week lets take a look at two health matters that made major waves this past year.

1. General Practitioner Shortage

General practitioners are a dying breed in the United States. The current supply will be overextended to meet the needs of all the new patients entering the health care system. The most recent report by the WHO estimated that 793,648 physicians exist in the United States; meaning for every 10,000 Americans there are 27 physicians. This rate pales in comparison to Russia, which has 43 physicians per 10,000 Russians and Greece, which has 54 doctors per 10,000 Greeks.

…37% of U.S. hospital executives reported that doctor shortages have compromised access to care among their patients.

This serious shortage is projected to become larger in the future. The Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Work Studies projected that by the year 2020, the U.S. will have a shortfall of over 130,000 physicians, 45,000 of whom are primary care doctors. This would mean that in the next 5 years, patients could have a harder time booking appointments, finding a general practitioner accepting patients, spend more time in waiting rooms, and less time with their providers. A survey conducted by AMN Healthcare found that nearly 37% of U.S. hospital executives reported that doctor shortages have compromised access to care among their patients.

It’s clear that not enough doctors choose to become a general or primary care practitioner. Most medical school students will enter more lucrative branches of specialty care, being drawn to the attractive salaries and more manageable patient-to-provider ratio. After all, it takes nearly 10 years of costly education to become a physician.

One growing solution to the shortage has been the increase of physician extenders, namely Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants and American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 88% percent of Nurse Practitioners and over 33% of Physician Assistants in the U.S. focus on primary care. Though they do not replace the need for physicians, these advanced practitioners have helped to address this deficiency.

2. Electronic Health Records

Been to the doctor (or Physician Assistant) lately? How did they chart your visit? Most providers are breaking out the computers and tablets during your appointment, and its not because their insensitively playing Word With Friends.

Providers are making changes in their documentation in response to the push for electronic health records. President Barack Obama aimed to transform the traditional paper-charting to digitalized health records through a five-year plan that concludes in 2015. To meet this goal, the federal government has been aggressively moving doctors and hospitals to electronic health records through financial incentives and increased health IT specialists. If, by 2015, medical providers choose to remain with the paper charts, they face cuts in Medicare payments as a consequence. The benefits of e-records are a reduction in errors, quick access to records and an easy mechanism for sharing records with other providers, hospitals, or insurance agencies.

When policy and public health work together collaboratively, we see a speedy progression toward change that will raise our standards, and our software.

Join me, Anju Abraham, student blogger extraordinaire, as we journey through 8 other significant health issues that took place in 2014.

*These public health issues are not ranked in order of importance.