A number of larger cities throughout the country are facing a shortage of primary care physicians, relative to their population and healthcare needs. The pandemic has affected the number of providers in many areas, as healthcare delivery methods and priorities shifted. A recent survey shows the metropolitan areas with the fewest primary care physicians. These geographic trends can be important considerations when planning a new independent practice.
The national average rate of primary care physicians is 110 per 100,000 people for metropolitan areas that have populations of at least 200,000 people. The researchers conducting the survey, found that some cities have “far fewer primary care physicians” and the two worst on the list actually have fewer than half of the national average.
The number of primary care physicians and behavioral health providers across the US has shifted out of balance, in terms of supply and demand, since the beginning of the pandemic. There are also mismatches arising among population growth areas and those areas where healthcare providers are located.
Research found that the 15 metropolitan areas with the fewest primary care physicians per 100,000 people are:
15. Lake Havasu City- Kingman, Arizona – 73
14. Houston – The Woodlands – Sugar Land, Texas – 72
13. Provo- Orem, Utah – 71
12. McAllen – Edinburg – Missions, Texas – 71
11. Montgomery, Alabama – 70
10. Phoenix – Mesa- Chandler, Arizona – 69
9. Merced, California – 68
8. Bakersfield, California – 66
7. Gulfport- Biloxi, Mississippi – 64
6. Yuma, Arizona – 61
5. El Paso, Texas – 60
4. Beaumont – Port Arthur, Texas – 57
3. Las Vegas – Henderson – Paradise, Nevada – 57
2. Laredo, Texas – 50
1. Jacksonville, North Carolina – 49
Demand for primary care was actually found to have decreased during the height of the pandemic. Many practices reduced their hours, closed completely, or transitioned to telehealth in response to patient behaviors. In contrast, there was a significantly higher use of behavioral health services during the pandemic as the focus on mental health increased.
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Now that the pandemic effects appear to be leveling off, an increase in primary care demand is expected by the experts. In fact, even though there are delays in patients returning to primary care, the demand is forecast to grow 1.4% annually through 2029. That number will vary by geographic location, of course.
As the researchers analyze the demand, they project that high-growth states will see a minimum of 1.9% increase. Those states include:
Other states, where the concentration of primary care physicians is highest, are projected to see a demand increase of a maximum of 1.2%. Those states include:
The researchers conducting this study have pointed out that, previously, physician shortage forecasts were based on assumptions of aging demographics and population growth, instead of projections of service demands. It is important to note, particularly in today’s healthcare environment, that the demand for primary care services is a function of population shifts and care trends.