Cumberland Times-News

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December 5, 2008

We’re facing a crisis in health care access

How many of you have had a problem finding a primary care physician or timely specialty care in Western Maryland? How much have your health insurance premiums gone up in the past 10 years? Have you had problems finding obstetrical care?

How many of you are seeing mid-level providers such as nurse practitioners because there is no time for the doctor to see you? Are you getting any better service for the increased cost? How many doctors have left this area in the past five years, and why?

The loss of physicians is exacerbating an already strained health care delivery system in Western Maryland and having a significant impact on access to care.

Recently the Maryland state Medical Society and Maryland Hospital Association conducted a one of a kind study to investigate the causes of the current crisis in health care access and the growing physician shortage in our state.

The findings are very enlightening. Maryland has 16 percent fewer physicians per capita than the rest of the U.S., and the U.S. as a whole has many fewer physicians per capita than most industrialized countries.

Maryland’s physician population is aging, as is the general population, with the expected population over age 65 expected to double between 2000 and 2030. There are an increased number of doctor visits as age increases.

Why do we not train more doctors? We are currently suffering from poor projections from the 1980s that have limited training slots and contributed to the crisis nationwide. Maryland only retains 52 percent of graduates to stay and practice in the state. With current growth in medical schools, we may not be able to reverse this trend for 30 more years.

We as a nation have relied upon international medical graduates to fill 24 percent of training positions. This number is likely to increase over time.

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