Mapping primary care: PCPs go where the patients are

AAFP data show that PCP distribution mirrors U.S. population

Where do the country's primary care physicians (PCPs) practice? A new fact sheet from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) shows that PCPs are more evenly geographically distributed than physicians in any other specialty.

The fact sheet is based on data collected by the American Academy of Family Physicians' (AAFP) Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

The data show that in 2010 the overall primary care workforce in the United States comprised about 209,000 practicing PCPs, 56,000 primary care NPs, and 30,000 primary care physician assistants (PAs). According to AHRQ, PCPs consist of family physicians and general practitioners, general internists, general pediatricians, and geriatricians. The latest data from the agency show that 22.5% of PCPs work in rural areas, compared with only 9.7% of all physicians.

Specifically, the statistics show that 7.2% of general practitioners and 2.4% of general internists practice in small rural areas, where 5% of the U.S. population lives but only 2.6% of overall physicians practice. Moreover, 4.2% of general practitioners and 1.1% of general internists practice in remote rural frontier areas, where 5% of the U.S. population lives but only 1.3% of physicians practice.

Although the fact sheet shows that PCPs are most likely to be geographically distributed in a similar way to the overall U.S. population, it also "indicates that we need to do more to recruit students from rural areas into our medical schools," says AAFP President Glen Stream.

The group notes that several medical schools have responded to that need by creating comprehensive rural programs where 45% to 76% of graduates practice in rural areas and 59% to 72% enter primary care (AHRQ fact sheet, January 2012; AAFP News Now, 2/3).

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