Linda V. Green of the Columbia Business School in New York, Sergei Savin of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Yina Lu, a doctoral student at the Columbia Business School, said most existing estimates of the shortage of primary care physicians are based on simple ratios, such as one physician for every 2,500 patients.
These traditional estimates do not consider the impact of such ratios on patients' ability to get timely access to care, the researchers said.
"They also do not quantify the impact of changing patient demographics on the demand side and alternative methods of delivering care on the supply side," the researchers wrote in the study. "We used simulation methods to provide estimates of the number of primary care physicians needed, based on a comprehensive analysis considering access, demographics and changing practice patterns."
The traditional doctor/patient ratio estimates did not account for a modern medical facility's ability to provide care to larger numbers of patients with fewer physicians.
"We show the implementation of some increasingly popular operational changes in the ways clinicians deliver care -- including the use of teams or 'pods,' better information technology and sharing of data and the use of non-physicians such as nurse practitioners -- have the potential to offset completely the increase in demand for physician services while improving access to care, thereby averting a primary care physician shortage," the researchers said.