Oasis In The Desert

May 19, 2016 by InTouch Health

In a recent MarketWatch report, Phil Miller, from the physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, said that 65 million people in the U.S. live in what’s “essentially a primary care desert.” According to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation research, it’s not just a rural phenomenon. Rhode Island and Connecticut are struggling to find primary care physicians just as much as North Dakota and Nebraska. 

Telehealth technology and osteopathy may soon be providing an oasis in that desert. Telehealth can help improve primary care access in struggling states like Missouri, by leveraging the expertise of first-line physicians in states like Delaware, which are amply supplied. Meanwhile, osteopathic schools are starting to create long-distance alliances to solve the primary care shortage.

The educational requirements for an osteopath are nearly identical to an M.D. program – and more than half of young osteopaths go into primary care. That’s one of the reasons why the New York Institute of Technology recently created an osteopathic medical campus at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The first group of 115 students will begin classes this fall.

Innovative programs like these can go a long way toward reducing the projected primary care shortfall. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates this could be as high as 31,000 physicians by 2025.

Telehealth technology is already helping to improve access to specialty care nationwide, which may encourage more medical students to consider a career in primary care. There’s still significant pressure on medical students to forsake primary care for the higher paying specialties in order to pay back six-figure college loans.

Until there are more incentives to enter primary care (perhaps government funded), telehealth can bring “water to the desert” by connecting patients with physician assistants, nurse practitioners and osteopaths who are ready to help.