State's Pool Of Doctors Is Shrinking

Bradley Vasoli

Public officials and medical practitioners are pointing out a trend in Pennsylvania’s community of physicians that they say promises to shrink it considerably in the near term: It’s aging quickly.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PMS) is stressing the decline in the number of direct patient care physicians working in the state, whom it says now number roughly 25,000, over 1,600 fewer than in 2004.

Former Gov. Dick Thornburgh (R) has told a committee of the state House of Representatives that one major factor depressing the population of Pennsylvania doctors is that many are retiring. He cited one estimate that 10,000 doctors will retire by 2010.

“That is probably [Gov. Ed Rendell’s] greatest concern” about the medical community, said Amy Kelchner, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform.

Meanwhile, caring for the elderly patient population gets no easier. Pennsylvania has the fifth highest number of doctors out of all states. But the ratio of doctors in the state to each 10,000 senior citizen patients is lower than that of 36 other states, according to PMS. The group believes that the trend is worsening.

PMS has also identified shortages in the case of other medical professionals. For every 100,000 Americans there are 24.6 nurse practitioners whereas there are only 20.19 nurse practitioners for every 100,000 Pennsylvanians.

According to Ken Kilpatrick, spokesperson for the Patients and Physicians Alliance (PAPA), the state’s dearth of doctors can be significantly addressed by enacting tort reforms such as caps on medical malpractice damage awards and attorneys’ contingency fees.

Mr. Rendell has opposed such measures, arguing that litigants’ access to legal redress should not be limited. Last year, he declared the medical malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania “over.” In 2007, state records suggested that 36,663 doctors practiced in Pennsylvania. The governor often points out that lawsuits endured by the state’s physicians declined 38 percent between 2003 and 2006.

Mr. Kilpatrick counters that a modest decline in litigation against doctors does not change the fact that 11,688 physicians (almost a third of those in the state) were sued in the five years prior to May 2007.

“[The governor] knows what he’s doing,” he said. “He’s not telling the truth.”

Bradley Vasoli can be reached at

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