Primary Care Physicians Needed

January 31, 2006 – Posted at 5:19 p.m. CST

WALNUT RIDGE , AR -- Their role is to take care of the every day needs of their patients and coordinate specialty care for patients. But according to the American College of Physicians, the primary care system could fall apart without immediate reforms. Lower incomes, more office time and additional hassle from insurers are leading more medical students to choose to practice specialty medicine.

"Specialties offer less of those hassles better hours and higher reimbursements," said Dr. C. King Bibby. Add that to the fact that more primary care doctors are retiring than graduating from medical school and you have the makings of a shortage.

"The statistics say there is about a need of 2200 physicians as far as primary care physicians throughout the U.S.," said Leah Osbahr, Administrator for the Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

"Part of the reason so many hospitals are seeing a lack of primary care physicians comes from the fact that medical students are going more and more into specialty medicine, now here at Lawrence Memorial Health Services they are not seeing a lack in primary care physicians, but they are beginning to see a glut in specialty medicine," said Dr. Bibby.

"As recent as this month we have had eight different specialists inquire about coming into our county and placing specialty clinics to serve our community," said Osbahr.

In the past, specialty doctors would typically practice in large cities. This surplus is allowing specialized care in smaller communities like Walnut Ridge. But other communities are coming up short with the primary care physicians who handle that basic care.

"There is no easy solution; I think the whole landscape of medicine will have to change. And that is why people are saying we are in a crisis in medical health care in the United States ," said Dr. Bibby.

To prevent from having a lack of primary care physicians in the future Lawrence Memorial and other hospitals are paying for students to go to medical school in return for four years as a primary care physician. Although some envision it as a potential problem, Lawrence Memorial feels it is just a phase.

"I think people who are involved in their community and involved in their families and want that atmosphere will lean more towards primary care," said Osbahr.

The good news is that the number of physicians serving the U.S. population continues to increase. Since January 1st , Lawrence Memorial Hospital has had eight different specialty physicians inquire about specialty care clinics in the county for neurology, gerontology, cardiology, rheumatology, gastro entomology, orthopediatrics, internal medicine and pediatrics.

According to the American Medical Association Survey, 35% of all physicians nationwide are over the age of 55 and will soon retire.