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Expanded Access to Healthcare Comes with Challenges

affordable care actOpen enrollment for individual health insurance for 2016 through Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, began Nov. 1.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 16.4 million uninsured people have gained health care coverage since the Act became law. Another 5 million are expected to sign up for policies during 2016. This is great news for patients, many of whom have gained coverage for the first time. However, the growing number of insured creates a challenge for our healthcare system as a whole.

Demand Has Increased, Capacity Has Not

A survey by The Physicians Foundation last year found that 81 percent of doctors describe themselves as either over-extended or at full capacity, and 44 percent said they planned to cut back on the number of patients they see, retire, work part-time or close their practice to new patients.

In fact, nearly 1 in 5 Americans live in locations considered to have a shortage of primary care doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects the shortage will grow to about 66,000 in just over 10 years as fewer residency slots are available and as more medical students choose higher-paying specialty areas.

A study by the Robert Graham Center predicts that The Affordable Care Act will increase the number of family doctors needed by more than 8,000.  ACA funding added 600 new primary care residencies, but that was part of a five-year investment that expires at the end of this year.

Filling the Gap

Healthcare networks and private practices are looking to fill the gap in a number of ways. One approach is to leverage the services of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants for a greater number of primary care visits.

Technology also has an important role to play. More efficient electronic patient records and scheduling solutions help to ease the administrative burden that goes hand in hand with healthcare.

Telemedicine is also playing in increasingly important role in making care delivery more efficient for providers and convenient for patients. A visit conducted via a secure, high definition audio and video connection does not come with the additional time and office overhead required for in person visits, allowing providers to see more patients and to more easily service the needs of those in distant communities.

The Affordable Care Act, combined with the aging population and increase in the number of patients with chronic conditions has created something of a perfect storm for the healthcare community. Creative solutions will be needed to keep patients and the system healthy at the same time.