New VCU study shows primary care workforce is smaller than originally thought, creates barrier to care

New VCU study shows primary care workforce is smaller than originally thought, creates barrier to care

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NBC12 Newsroom | Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 4:56 PM EDT

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – A new study out of VCU shows a concerning discovery about the number of primary care doctors in Virginia.

As it turns out, the workforce is 25% smaller than initially thought. This means several practices are spread thin, overextending in providing care.

NBC12 spoke with the physician who led the study to break down the impact.

“Without access to primary care, you really miss your first access point. You miss continuity, you miss comprehensiveness, and then you miss this coordination of care among the primary care team and specialists,” said family medicine clinician Dr. Alison Huffstetler, who led the study.

Researchers like Dr. Huffstetler found that the state’s primary care workforce may be in trouble taking on an immense patient load.

“What the numbers alone show us is that each clinician would have to take care of around 1500 people, and that’s if they’re full time, and doing a full patient load, and they have equally complex patients.”

Dr. Huffstetler says the impact of staffing issues is on full display.

“I had to myself wait three months to see my primary care doctor, and I’m in the system,” she said. “I can’t imagine how hard it is for people that don’t know the ropes like I do. It’s a huge barrier to care.”

She says this lack of sufficient staffing makes it harder to see your doctor. Therefore, many health issues could go unnoticed.

These physicians need to provide routine comprehensive care.

“If people are stretched thin, they can’t do that. If I only have seven minutes with you as my patient, it’s really hard for me to talk about your preventive care, your mental health, and your physical health,” she said.

This study shows the dilemma is significantly worse in more rural areas where health care is not as accessible.

The problem may get worse before it gets better.

“We have a workforce that has practiced well beyond 65, we have a lot of practicing clinicians who practice beyond what we would typically see as retirement age, but with burnout plus those clinicians, I think we’re gonna see a bigger retirement in the next few years, and it’s gonna be really hard to make up for those panels,” Dr. Huffstetler said.

The research shows Virginia will need more primary care clinicians to account for the people leaving the workforce and help the growing and aging population.