Hospitals struggle to recruit primary care doctors

Older patients also have more primary care needs

A confluence of increasingly aging patients and doctors, growing demand, and an increasing emphasis on primary care services is making it more difficult to fill open positions for primary care physicians (PCPs), according to an annual report from the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters.

According to the report, hospitals in 2011 filled just 51% of available positions for any physician specialty, compared with 60% in 2010. PCP positions also took longer to fill—151 days in 2011, compared with 125 days in 2010 and 115 days in 2009—even though PCPs are listed among the top five requested medical professions, the report states.

Aging patients and doctors are a chief reason for the provider recruitment difficulties, health experts say. Older patients increase the demand for primary care services, while many eligible physicians decided not to retire due to the recession.

Physicians over age 65—who accounted for 21.5% of doctors in 2011, compared with 13% in 1975, according to data from the American Medical Association—also tend to work fewer hours than their younger counterparts and are less willing to move, analysts say.

"Physicians move an average of four times in their career, but physicians who are 55 and older don't move as much," according to Tim Sheley, a physician recruitment expert from Jackson & Coker.

Moreover, recruiting PCPs has become more difficult because many facilities that are hiring have experienced a greater call for primary care services, in part because of declining inpatient volume due to advances in technology, the Affordable Care Act's insurance mandate and an increased focus on accountable care and patient-centered medical homes (Elliot, American Medical News, 11/6).

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