Missouri Faces Fewer Primary Care Doctors
COLUMBIA - Missouri patients are facing a shortage of primary care doctors. The state ranks No. 35 in the nation for its proportion of primary care doctors to citizens. With less than 74 primary care doctors per 100,000 residents, Missouri is behind the national average of more than 79 active primary care per 100,000 residents.
According to Ronald Ott, CEO of Fitzgibbon Hospital, the problem stems from many different issues. One of the problems is fewer people are choosing to become primary care doctors because that particular medical path pays less than specialty medicine, such as cardiology. Thus, there are fewer spots open to primary care doctors in residency training.
The shortage of doctors is especially prominent in rural communities. According to Ott, it is harder to attract doctors to rural areas are usually more poor than urban areas. Although, rural areas may be where primary care physicians are needed the most.
"When you're in rural America, rural Missouri, there's limited resources and limited access to health care, and that is a challenge because across the state, rural areas tend to be older. The aging population is more located in the rural areas," said Ott. "There's more chronic disease, obesity, diabetes [and] heart disease. We tend to have more health care issues than the urban and suburban areas do."
The lack of primary care doctors is causing other health professionals, such as nurse practitioners, to act as doctors and perform duties usually taken on by doctors.
Dr. Chris J. Sporleder, a rural physician at Marshall Family Practice, says nurse practitioners replacing doctors can't solve the problem long-term. Sporleder thinks the shortage could get worse with President Obama's Affordable Care Act. More than 300,000 additional Missourians could get health care insurance, causing the strain to be even more apparent.
Sporleder says solutions to the problem starts with education.
"As far as how to fix that problem, I think you need to really start with the medical schools and a little earlier on in that educational process," said Sporleder. "But I think education, as to at least the availability of that career track and what it takes and what it gives back, is probably something that has kind of slipped through the fingers."
He also says salaries of primary care doctors should increase to make primary care jobs more competitive with other medical jobs, and medical schools should open up more residency spots to those wanting to study primary care medicine.