Monday, August 1, 2011

Doctors in short supply in rural Missouri, report says

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCUR) - A new report finds that rural Missouri is on track to face greater health care challenges than its urban counterpart.

Herb Kuhn heads the Missouri Hospital Association, which issued the new analysis of state population and physician data.

Kuhn says rural areas are experiencing greater doctor shortages. And, it’s on track to get worse.

"About 55 percent of all physicians in the state are age 50 and over. But in rural areas it’s much higher – 62 percent. So what this means is that we’re going to have physicians in the rural areas in the state retiring earlier than in the urban areas. And, since we have so many fewer physicians in the rural areas, it does raise some issues in terms of access to care in the future," Kuhn says.

Kuhn says this will be an even bigger problem come 2014: that’s when another half million Missourians are expected to gain health coverage through provisions under the federal health law.

The report recommends the state look into new ways to avert the crisis – Kuhn says that could include better use of information technology, revamping student loan-assistance programs, and improving secondary science education and med school preparation in rural areas.

Myra Evans heads a critical access hospital in Fairfax, Missouri, about 100 miles north of Kansas City. She says the new report really resonates with the situation in her region.

"Three years ago a physician that was 57 left to be closer to his grandchildren, and then we had two physicians that were over 80 years old still practicing that retired. So we actually are down to three physicians and we’re trying recruit at least two to our area. And that’s been kind of difficult right now," Evans said.

Evans says her hospital is the only one serving about 11,000 people in the two-county area. She says one way they’ve dealt with the shortage of doctors is by bringing in more nurse practitioners. The Missouri Hospital Association reviewed population and health data, as well as existing workforce studies, for the new report.

Elana Gordon, KCUR


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