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The QLess Blog

4 Ways Medical Offices Can Prepare for the Physician Shortage

Jun 01 By Kannon Callis | Categories: Healthcare

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Experts predict that by the year 2025, the US healthcare industry could face a shortage of primary care physicians ranging from 34,600 to 88,000 physicians. Undoubtedly, medical practices need to start preparing now in order to survive the burdens of such a shortage of key staff.

Below are four physician shortage solutions your medical office can consider:

1. Invest in Residents

A lot of people in the medical field believe that boosting medical school enrollment will mitigate the effects of the upcoming shortage of primary care physicians. That may be true, but according to a survey by the AAMC, medical school enrollment has increased by 28 percent since the year 2002.

Dr. Fred Jacobs, executive vice president of St. George's University School of Medicine, believes the issue lies not with medical school enrollment, but with the step that should immediately follow graduation. “The real chokehold is in the residency programs.”

The numbers certainly backup Jacobs’ sentiment. In 2017, there were 35,969 medical students – from the U.S. and abroad – seeking only 31,757 residency positions in the United States. That leaves more than 4,000 young men and women without opportunities to take the next step in their careers

"We have a shortage of physicians but a surplus of talent," said Jason Farr, who works for a national medical recruiting firm. Funding for residents is expensive, as well, and most hospitals and medical groups do not have extra funds to pay for them or they go way over budget in order to do so.

Some practices are building their own paths from medical school to residency programs – including Kaiser Permanente. Today, Kaiser Permanente, which is based in Oakland, California, trains 600 residents each year and offers continuing medical education (CME) to 22,000 more medical professionals.

If your institution is able to create a similar program – even if it is at a much smaller scale – you can help more medical school graduates begin their professional lives and, in the process, develop one of the more effective physician shortage solutions.

2. Invest in Physician Assistants

One of the most efficient physician shortage solutions is investing in more physician assistants. At the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 90,000 physician assistants are currently working in the United States. That number can increase in far less time, and for far less money, than adding new doctors to the workforce.

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Why? Because physician assistants only need to complete a one-year rotation to begin practicing – a stark difference from the three to seven years of residency training we require of aspiring doctors.

According to Karen Sibert, MD, "PAs can help one physician care for more than one patient at a time," making it easier to stay on schedule when there isn’t an ideal number of doctors on call.

3. Keep Your Doctors in Tow

Just about every medical practice in the United States deals with substantial turnover. According to the Society of Hospital Medicine, the average practice – which employs around 10 physicians – loses around one provider each year.

That may not seem like a big deal, but financially, it can have a significant impact on medical offices. According to the Physician Career Advisor, simply recruiting new physicians to a practice cost $27,300 per physician in 2014. Practices interview around three candidates for every vacancy, according to Cejka Search, and when you take into account factors such as signing bonuses, relocation fees, etc., it can cost more than $100,000 just to get a new doctor on board.

The projected cost of losing a doctor is significantly worse for large practices. Cejka found that for practices with 200-plus employees, roughly $1.2 million can be lost – largely due to a loss of downstream revenue and the annual start-up cost of a full-time physician.

As you search for physician shortage solutions, it will only become more expensive and more difficult to add new physicians to your staff. So your office should go out of its way to hold onto the doctors it already has in tow. Here are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Make sure you recruit the right doctors in the first place: When interviewing candidates for a physician vacancy, make sure the people you hire will mesh with your other employees and the general environment of your medical office. No matter how talented a doctor is, he or she is unlikely to stay with you long-term if there isn’t a natural fit.
  • Create a mentorship program: Nearly three-quarters of all medical groups believe that mentoring programs reduce turnover. Yet slightly more than half assign mentors to new physicians, per Cejka.
  • Consider the needs of doctors based on age: Physicians at different stages of their careers have different needs and desires. Young, upstart doctors tend to place more value on salary, culture, and lifestyle options; those in the middle of their careers often seek more financial incentives and partnership opportunities; and older physicians are likely to seek less intensive schedules to improve their work-life balance.
  • Ask for feedback – a lot: It’s important to make sure your doctors are able to speak freely about their work. By taking their concerns into account and making the kind of adjustments they seek, they will be more likely to stick around.

If executed properly, this can be an easy and effective physician shortage solution.

4. Use Queue Management Software

One of the best physician shortage solutions is to implement a queue management system. That way, should your practice have fewer doctors than it would under ideal circumstances, your office can avoid long wait times and patient overcrowding in your lobby.

With the QLess healthcare queue management system, you deliver patient care more efficiently. The QLess FlexAppointments feature merges existing appointments with walk-in customers providing a stress-free solution to eliminate scheduling gaps when appointments are canceled.

The queue management software improves patient flow by notifying patients of delays, which controls expectations and decreases the frustration they may feel during the waiting process. This can lead to improvements in patient satisfaction by 20 percent, and in turn, increase patient loyalty and your practice’s reputation.

Additionally, you can send SMS surveys to your patients and, gather real-time feedback about their time at your practice. This can help zero in on areas that need improvement while demonstrating to your patients that you’re willing to go the extra mile for them.

To learn more about QLess and how our software can help you as in your search for physician shortage solutions, request a business demo today.

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