California’s primary care shortage

A new report from UCSF Healthforce Center reveals that California has a shortage of primary care physicians.

The study looked at MDs, DOs, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. The majority of MDs and PAs don’t provide primary care, only 36 percent and 22 percent respectively. Half of NPs and 60 percent of DOs do provide primary care.

Primary care physicians are unevenly distributed in California, with rural areas suffering the most. Only the Greater Bay Area and Sacramento Area have greater than 60 primary care physicians per 100,000 population, the minimum recommended ratio.

The shortage is expected to worsen. One-third of primary care providers are 55 or older and are expected to retire or shorten their hours within the next ten years. As the baby boomers age, many will require an increase in care, which will exacerbate the shortage.

New primary care providers are not expected to enter the field at the same rate as those leave.

When patients do not have easy access to primary care providers, patients end up using the ER at higher rates, which creates another issue. A national survey by RNnetwork found that half of nurses have considered leaving the field. 27 percent cited feeling overworked and almost half reported an increase in their workloads compared to two years ago.

Part of this increase in workload can be attributed to the implementation of the ACA and Medi-Cal expansion, which allowed millions of Californians to gain coverage, especially in rural areas. But accessing care still remains an issue.