As the nation continues to deal with concerns about growing physician shortages across the country, a tool created by researchers at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) will estimate the supply of physicians, use of physician services, and capacity of the physician workforce across the country.
The FutureDocs Forecasting Tool is an interactive, web-based model that will aim to help policy makers, physicians and health systems better plan where to practice and what type of practitioners will be needed to meet the growing utilization of healthcare in the U.S.
The tool is based on the concept of plasticity—the idea that physicians in different specialties have overlapping scopes of practice. Plasticity takes into account the multiple configurations of physicians able to meet patients’ needs for care in different communities. The majority of current national workforce models focus on silo-based projections by physician specialty.
“It’s important to recognize that the national dialogue about physician supply has been narrowly focused until now,” Erin Fraher, Ph.D., leader of the development team at the Program on Health Workforce Research and Policy, part of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a news release statement.
“National data on the numbers of physicians needed in various specialties is neither accurate nor useful for workforce planning and policy at the local and state level,” she said. “Instead, we need to understand how alternative combinations of physicians and other healthcare providers can provide needed services in a market area. The FutureDocs Forecasting tool provides the information that states and regions need to plan for ways to train, recruit, retain or redesign the workforce required to meet their population’s healthcare needs.”
The online application of the model can be customized to display how shortages or surpluses for many types of services at state and sub-state levels will change between 2011-2030. These projections can be adapted to take into consideration different policy scenarios. For instance, the user will be able to adjust for state adoption of insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion provisions, physician retirement rates, changes to the number of patient care full-time equivalents (FTEs), redistribution of graduate medical education (GME) slots, and the use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
The developers at UNC actively sought and incorporated input from physicians and hospital systems across the country. Feedback from medical associations and individual physician researchers led to discoveries on how to frame the supply side of the model better.