Hospitals respond to physician shortage

A growing doctor shortage nationwide is changing the way local health systems provide care.

A recent report warns that by 2030, Wisconsin may have a shortage of up to 4,000 doctors. And with the Affordable Care Act insuring more people, plus an aging Baby Boomer population, that spells trouble.

There are shortages to deal with right now as well, and the Mayo Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System in the La Crosse area are finding ways to keep up with the increasing demands for healthcare.

“Each day, 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65,” said Dr. Paul Molling, of the Mayo Health Clinic.

That means more checkups, tests and treatments.

“We as physicians can’t take care of it all,” Molling said.

Hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare are shifting many of the duties into the hands of physician assistants, and P.A. programs are popping up nationwide to meet the growing demand.

“A physician assistant can do up to 80 percent of what a family physician can do,” P.A. Ivy Heims, of Mayo Clinic, said. “We diagnose, treat, educate, create treatment plans.”

Molling said at Mayo, they try to use their resources to the best of their ability so that patients who don’t specifically need the care of a physician have other options.

“A lot of that lower-level care is being spread out amongst other health care, like express care online, express clinics, even receiving (information) over the phone,” Molling said. “We’re keeping them away from the clinic and opening access to patients that really, truly need us.”

But a physician and physician assistant shortage remains.

“Each day that goes by, I’m receiving 5-10 postings, phone calls, emails to join other practices,” Molling said.

That shortage is especially apparent in rural areas.

“I previously worked in rural Iowa so I’ve seen that shortage firsthand,” Heims said. “There’s a vast need for family practice providers.”

“We work constantly to come up with new innovative strategies to attract people to rural practices,” Dr. Marilu Bintz, of Gundersen, said.

Like other health systems, Gundersen uses strategies such as loan forgiveness as an incentive to practice in rural areas.

“We have a new family medicine residency at Gundersen where we’re trying to basically grow our own family doctors to go out into the rural environments,” Bintz said.

Bintz said Gundersen is recruiting medical students earlier and earlier into their education.

Molling said along with a physician shortage, there will likely be a surgeon shortage as well.

“We have to work collaboratively with our groups, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to figure out how we’re going to deal with this problem,” Molling said.