Archived Story

Editorial: Primary care doctor shortage demands action

Published 10:11am Monday, April 14, 2014

Have you heard of the Minnesota Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t — after all, this commission doesn’t exist yet. It’s just an idea, easily lost among a seemingly endless array of proposals on how to improve our health-care system.

But this idea has been formalized and introduced as a bill in both the Minnesota House and Senate, and we think it’s an idea that more people should be talking about.

Essentially, the goal of this bill — House File 322 and Senate File 2881 — is to find ways to encourage more aspiring doctors to become primary care physicians.

Why is that important?

Well, in 2010, the Council on Graduate Medical Education issued a report indicating that in order to reduce the national shortage of primary care physicians, 40 percent of all medical students would have to pursue careers in primary care. But for the past five years, just 12 percent have done so. The vast majority instead pursue medical specialties that offer higher pay, greater prestige, more minutes-per-patient and less grappling with insurance companies and mountains of paperwork.

To address this problem, the companion bills in the Legislature would create a 10-member commission — five representatives, five senators — that would expire on Jan. 1, 2015. During its six-month existence, the commission would face the daunting task of identifying existing medical workforce shortages and projecting future shortages across the state, as well as recommending new incentives that would encourage future medical students to focus on primary care.

We like the idea of creating such a commission. Although we recognize the new reality of modern medicine, with much routine care being provided by a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant, we also know there is tremendous value in having a long-term relationship with a trusted primary care doctor.

Furthermore, we also know tens of thousands of Minnesotans live in rural areas where the local primary care doctor is a crucial-yet-vanishing resource. Minnesota must find new ways to encourage young doctors to move to such areas, or we’ll face a full-blown crisis in rural health care.

Our only concern with the proposed commission is that six months seems like an awfully short time in which to tackle a very serious problem — especially when half of the members of this commission likely would be campaigning for re-election.

We know the need is urgent, but an 18-month timeline would be far more realistic. Yes, it’s entirely possible that the November election could create some vacancies on the commission, but replacements could be named if the need arises.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, April 8