Why Employers Should be Worried About the Looming Doctor Shortage

by Jeff Wells, MD, president and co-founder of OurHealth

Today’s healthcare landscape is changing rapidly, and it should come as no surprise that these changes are steadily impacting every single facet of the industry. From diagnostic tests to pharmaceutical costs to post-acute services, prices are steadily rising and skilled workers are hard to come by. Unfortunately, this now includes primary care providers. In fact, there could be a shortage of up to 100,000 physicians by 2025, according to the American Colleges of Medicine.

A looming provider shortage of physicians may mean longer wait times and decreased access to care for patients.

There are several factors contributing to this staggering shortage, including:

  • An increasingly competitive medical school application processes.
  • The regulation in place that caps the number of residency positions at hospitals.
  • An entire generation of providers aging out of practice faster than new physicians can enter.
  • The ongoing aging of the nation’s patient population and an overall lack of resources to care for them – by 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65.

While these factors will impact every corner of healthcare, employers who self-fund employee healthcare benefits will feel acutely more pressure over the next few years. With fewer physicians providing primary services, patients (aka employees) will either not seek out primary care services or will have to pay top dollar for hard-to-find healthcare. Both of these scenarios will result in higher out-of-pocket costs for both employers and employees.

But combating this looming shortage and its consequences requires more than specific granular fixes to each of the above factors – simply creating a larger supply of providers or creating more patient “access” isn’t feasible. Instead, businesses, employers, and healthcare providers must embrace new tools that balance supply and demand, including technology that optimizes the care experience for physicians and patients (virtual care, e.g.); physician-led team care models that create more patient-provider time; and data analytics that help decision-makers proactively address their approach population’s health.

Employers can actively combat the negative effects of the looming provider shortage by increasing employee choices for healthcare, choosing technology-enabled health and wellness benefit providers, and championing solutions that remove friction from the care experience for patients. Investing in an onsite or near-site clinic initiative can make it easier for employees to receive care while combating chronic conditions and lowering employer healthcare costs in the long-term.

With unimpaired access to a primary care physician through an onsite or near-site clinic, employers can proactively:

Impact Preventative Care

There are countless reasons why people don’t visit the doctor regularly, including uncomfortable situations, inconvenient locations, price, and just plain old forgetfulness. Those who don’t visit a primary care physician regularly are at risk of living unhealthy lifestyles or developing long-term chronic health issues. With an onsite or near-site clinic option, it’s simple and easy for employees to meet with physicians in a comfortable, cost-effective environment. Employers can directly impact employee health, which in turn positively impacts long-term preventative issues.  

Reduce the Risk of Inappropriate Care

One of the most costly expenses for an employer health plan is emergency care. Visits to the emergency department, urgent care center, or even immediate care clinics can run up healthcare costs without addressing end-of-the-line results. Unfortunately for employers, more than 70% of emergency department visits are unnecessary. These inappropriate care visits are literally burning dollars that could be better spent on employee-first preventative care. With onsite and near-site clinics, employees can easily visit a knowledgeable provider to address any questionable critical situation. This applies to worksite injuries or illnesses, too. While an onsite or near-site clinic might not replace an emergency department for the tough issues, it can be a great first stop to validate an injury before heading to a high-cost care center.

Leverage Technology

With physicians in short supply, employers and other healthcare benefit providers must more effectively manage the supply that exists. Fortunately, consumer-focused healthcare technologies are helping to bridge the gap to optimize both the physician and the patient’s time. One example is the recent rise in popularity in virtual care options, including telephonic or web-based visits for conditions that may not require an in-person consultation. Rather than a patient spending 15 to 30 minutes to a doctor’s office, then waiting another 30 minutes in the waiting area plus an additional 10 minutes in exam room – all  for a 5-minute consultation, a visit can now take place online in 10 minutes total or less.

Manage Chronic Conditions

Today, 1 in 2 American adults has a chronic health condition, ranging from heart disease to high cholesterol to diabetes. As the patient population (and, in conjunction, the employee population) ages, the number of employees with these conditions is growing. Providing self-funded healthcare for employees with chronic conditions is a costly expense, and a growing lack of providers will only make it harder for these individuals to receive care. Onsite and near-site clinics both improves employee access to care and strengthens employer messaging around wellness initiatives. Employers are now taking an upfront position to help employees fight chronic conditions by providing them with exercise information, nutrition coaching, psychological evaluations, and more through onsite clinic programs.

Control Your Healthcare Costs in a Changing Industry

Onsite and near-site clinics can help organizations of all sizes prepare for long-term industry changes now. If your company is ready to take the next step towards providing personal, affordable health care to employees, get in touch with the OurHealth team today.

About Jeff Wells

Jeff Wells MD MBA is the co-founder of OurHealth, an Indianapolis-based provider of onsite and near-site healthcare and wellness solutions for more than 30 employers across the country. He believes simplifying how healthcare is delivered can change the world.

As the former director of Indiana’s Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning, Wells managed a $5-billion healthcare program that served 1 million Indiana residents. His tenure included the creation of the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), widely considered as one of the most innovative models for increased healthcare access.

Wells has been recognized as one of Indianapolis Business Journal’s Forty under 40 in 2018, and as one of Indy’s Best and Brightest in 2013.