MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Baby Boomers are getting older, doctors are aging towards retirement, and new insurance demands are stretching our medical care system. Arkansas and Mississippi may be used to that; new numbers show those states have the fewest available doctors in the country.
Massachusetts has the most doctors- 315 per 100,000 of population. But, Arkansas and Mississippi bring up the rear.
There are a lot of moving parts in the problem. For instance, most states with low doctor/patient ratios are underinsured. In the cases of Arkansas and Mississippi- that fits.
But that is not the only reason for a lack of physicians.
“Every major metropolitan area and state is- in its own way- dealing with a lack of physician resources,” said William Breen, Vice-President of Physician Alignment at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. Among other things, that puts him in charge of recruiting doctors.
If you think attracting those doctors to big cities like Memphis is tough, consider the plight of Arkansas and Mississippi.
A new study shows Arkansas has the second worst doctor-patient ratio in the country: 169 doctors for every 100,000 residents.
Mississippi is at the very bottom: 159 doctors per 100,000.
“We have a little over 2000 active primary care medical doctors in the state, but they are mal-distributed," said Mendal Kemp, who works for the Mississippi Hospital Association.
Most of Mississippi’s doctors congregate in metro areas, “around Memphis, Desoto County, Jackson and the coast,” Kemp explained.
70 of the Magnolia State’s 82 counties are considered “health professional shortage” areas, according to Kemp.
“That’s a ratio in excess of one physician to every 3500 people,” noted Kemp, “that’s staggering isn’t it?”
It certainly is, so those whose business it is to attract doctors have to sweeten the pot.
“Make the Memphis marketplace,” said Breen, “west Tennessee, north Mississippi, and east Arkansas, a place that people want to practice medicine.”
One would think medical schools are the answer.
“It is, frankly,” said Breen, “a leg up to have a medical school partnership here.”
But, residencies nationwide are capped at 26,000.
“Sometime by the end of the decade,” said Dr. Atul Grover, “we are going to have several hundred more students graduating from medical schools, than first year residency training spots for them.”
Grover is with the Association of Medical Colleges.
The lack of residency slots could make it even tougher to recruit doctors to places like Arkansas and Mississippi.
“There are really probably ten problems we have to work on simultaneously,” said Breen.
The American Association of Medical Colleges predicts that by 2020- just eight years away- the shortage nationwide will reach 90,000 doctors.
So, why are residencies capped at 26,000? It was done by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 when a doctor surplus was projected.