Study: Maryland Doctor Shortage Worst in Specialist Fields, Rural Areas

A new study of Maryland’s physician workforce shows that the state has a growing shortage of doctors in clinical practice, and concludes it could become dire for patients, especially those in need of medical specialists.

“It is a silent crisis that grows in intensity every day,” Maryland Hospital Association President Cal Pierson said. “If this shortage is not addressed promptly, patient care and access to care will suffer.

The study conducted for the Maryland Hospital Association, and cosponsored by MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, found that overall, Maryland is 16 percent below the national average for the number of physicians in clinical practice. The most severe problems occur in rural parts of the state and will worsen by 2015, based on the study’s findings.

The widest statewide gaps are in primary care, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, hematology/oncology, thoracic surgery and vascular surgery, psychiatry, and dermatology. The study also finds Maryland has only a borderline supply of orthopedic surgeons.

The shortage is the worst in Southern Maryland, Western Maryland, and the Eastern Shore. All three regions fall significantly below national levels in currently practicing physicians. Southern Maryland at present has critical shortages in 25 of the 30 physician categories (83.3%); Western Maryland 20 of 30 (66.7%) and the Eastern Shore 18 of 30 (60%).

Hospitals throughout the state report difficulty in finding medical specialists to cover patient needs and support their emergency departments. Also, the study indicates there will be future shortages in all pediatric specialties, except Neonatology, and a projected statewide shortage in Diagnostic Radiology.

Unless state leaders take steps to address this situation, Pierson said, patients soon may not be able to find the physicians they need, particularly in regions where there are a dwindling number of medical specialists.

The hospital study calls for a number of legislative remedies including changing the state’s medical liability laws, raising physician fees so Maryland is competitive nationally, and starting a state loan forgiveness program to draw young physicians to regions most in need.

“We must develop incentives to encourage physicians to see Maryland as ‘physician friendly’ and to encourage them to practice in the state’s rural areas and specialty areas with the greatest shortages,” said MedChi Executive Director Martin Wasserman, M.D. “We can’t afford to wait. We must retain our current physicians and residents in training and recruit new physicians to practice in our state.”

Robert Barish, M.D., Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who chaired the Steering Committee that supervised the study, pointed out that an aging physician workforce is one of the reasons for the shortage.

In Maryland, 9.9 percent of clinical physicians are 65 years or older and 33.4 percent of them are 55 years or older.
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