LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - According to a study conducted by the Center for Rural Health at UAMS, Arkansas continues to see a severe shortage in primary care physicians in the state.
Right now, more than half-a-million Arkansans do not have insurance to cover their medical expenses. However, after Thursday's health care ruling, the vast majority of them will by 2014. But will there be enough doctors to supply the demand?
When it comes to having enough doctors to go around, Arkansas ranks 48th with an average of 189 for every 100,000 people, a problem that could turn into a crisis by 2014.
UAMS trains thousands of professionals for the medical field, but after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling, it may not be enough to supply Arkansas' medical needs.
"You can't implement a policy if you don't have the professionals to do the work," says UAMS Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn.
He says the new law requiring health insurance for all Americans by 2014 could create challenges for Arkansas' primary care physicians.
"It is a danger that the demand for services will exceed our capacity to meet them. That is a danger here in Arkansas. We are trying to take steps to prepare for that in the future but to say that we have that solved would be untrue," says Chancellor Rahn.
That is because Arkansas is already seeing a shortage in primary care physicians. A study conducted by the UAMS Center for Rural Health just last year found there were 514 current vacancies for primary care professions in Arkansas. Over the next five years, that number is expected to rise to 860 vacancies. The biggest hit came to family medicine. In 2011, family practice had 282 vacancies in Arkansas but by 2016, it could reach 473.
"It's in part related to how difficult the work is. It has been related to the compensation and so the gap between the need for primary care physicians and the supply has been widening," says Chancellor Rahn.
It is a gap that now, with so many new patients entering the system, will be even more difficult to close.
"What we need now to do is build capacity of the system between now and then and that will be a challenge," says Chancellor Rahn.
Chancellor Rahn says UAMS is working to address the problem with more family practice residency programs in the northwest part of the state as well as a new physician's assistant program. They are also working with the feds to develop a strategy for Medicare and Medicaid to deal with the dramatic increase
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, by 2020 the physician shortage on a national scale will climb to 90,000.