Solutions for Rural Physician Shortage

Contact: David Gross

 

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“Good primary care physicians are key to the health of rural Kentuckians, but also to the health of rural economies. Using coal severance taxes as a way to attract prospective rural physicians is an unconventional economic strategy. But compared to trying to bring in a small factory, it’s not expensive, and it could provide great benefits, even beyond what manufacturing can provide.”

-- Judy Jones, J.D.,
director,
UK Center for Rural Health

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 16, 2004) -- A University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health study has found that the state needs an additional 600 primary care physicians to adequately meet the health care needs of Kentuckians.

Numerous factors have contributed to the shortage, from physicians’ increasing medical malpractice premiums to fewer medical students choosing family practice as a specialty. Only 15 Kentucky counties have enough family physicians, the study found -- a condition that has contributed to a rural population that suffers from unusually high rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

The study also revealed that approximately 400 of Kentucky’s family physicians are age 60 or above. At the same time, the state’s rural family medicine residency programs can only be expected to produce up to 18 new family physicians each year.

Among the solutions offered by UK Center for Rural Health researchers is using a portion of the state’s coal severance tax revenue to help repay student loans of physicians who agree to practice at least five years in rural, underserved counties.

“Good primary care physicians are key to the health of rural Kentuckians, but also to the health of rural economies,” said Judy Jones, J.D., director of the UK Center for Rural Health. “Using coal severance taxes as a way to attract prospective rural physicians is an unconventional economic strategy. But compared to trying to bring in a small factory, it’s not expensive, and it could provide great benefits, even beyond what manufacturing can provide.”

The study reported that each rural physician has a demonstrated worth of about 17 jobs and $343,706 in a community’s economic impact each year.

Other potential remedies offered by the UK researchers included increased state and federal support of rural residency programs and finding workable solutions to the state’s medical malpractice crisis.

Health policy research is one of numerous approaches the UK Center for Rural Health uses to help improve the health status of all rural Kentuckians. The center also utilizes health education and community outreach programs in its efforts.

In 2000, the center was named the nation’s Outstanding Rural Health Program by the National Rural Health Association, and earlier this year UK’s Rural Medicine Program was ranked ninth nationally by U.S.News & World Report. In March, the center is scheduled to move into a new multimillion-dollar facility on Morton Boulevard in Hazard.


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