Primary Care Doctors in Short Supply- How will you be impacted? « Health Insurance Advisory

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new healthcare reform lawThe new healthcare law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), represents comprehensive healthcare reform legislation signed into law on March 23, 2010. It contains numerous provisions designed to protect consumers and promote low cost medical insurance, including many new taxes to pay for the cost.

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Primary Care Doctors in Short Supply- How will you be impacted?

Author: Allan Z - Founder Editor | Nov 27 2010 | General Topics - Healthcare

Primary-care physician shortage in the United States is fundamentally changing the way many of us get much of our healthcare. Nurses with advanced degrees, physician assistants and clinics are taking a more prominent role in primary care, seeing many cases once handled by the family doctor.  As 32 million more Americans gain health insurance by 2014 under federal health-care reform, these non-physician health providers will play an ever expanding role, experts say.

The Arizona Republic reports that economics are driving the trend.  Doctors are paid more for specialty procedures than routine care, prompting many new doctors to pursue specialties such as orthopedics or dermatology that promise better hours and higher pay.  The gap is being filled by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who complete fewer years of education and receive lower pay than doctors do.

While health experts acknowledge the primary-care shift from doctors to non-physician practitioners, not all agree on whether the impact will diminish the quality of care.  Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can handle the vast majority of routine cases, but some doctors question whether practitioners with less training will have the expertise to link minor symptoms to major health problems.

They will get their chance. Federal health reform promises free preventive care by prohibiting health insurers from charging consumers for routine screens such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks as well as more complex tests for diseases such as cancer. There likely won’t be enough doctors to handle the expected surge in new patients from health reform, experts say.

As the supply of doctors does not keep pace with demand, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are taking a larger share of primary-care duties. Physician assistants work with doctors in traditional family practices as well as in clinics and hospitals. Unlike nurse practitioners, physician assistants must operate under the supervision of a doctor.

A family doctor typically completes four years of medical school and three years of residency training. Nurse practitioners can complete a master’s degree in two to three years or a doctorate in three to five years. Whereas a family doctor can expect to take 9,000 to 10,000 hours to complete a residency, a nurse practitioner may only need 500 to 1,000 supervised clinical training hours. With education expenses and medical-training costs lower for nurse practitioners, health care can cost less.  That is one reason why medical experts see highly trained nurses and physician assistants increasingly filling the role of family doctor.

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