Assessing Physician Network Needs for Population Health

Estimating Clinician Supply and Demand in a Changing Market

The industry-wide shift to population health will impact physician manpower needs. Learn the three market and organizational factors that will influence physician supply and demand as care imperatives change.

How many physicians do you need in your network?

The answer is not as simple as it seems.

Health systems and medical groups preparing for population health management need to consider how this strategic shift will affect demand for physician services. They must develop a comprehensive assessment of current and future physician needs that considers questions such as:

  • Do we have enough primary care providers to meet emerging imperatives for improved care management and patient access?
  • As utilization patterns shift, will we have more specialists than we can financially support?

Physician manpower planning takes far more than a simple matching of "number of patients" to "number of physicians."

Physician-to-population ratios do exist, but they give an incomplete picture.

Many commonly used models, such as the ratios developed by the Graduate Medical Education National Advisory Committee (GMENAC), are based on the assumptions of a fee-for-service environment. They do not account for how utilization and demand for physician services may change with greater reimbursement risk.

Demand forecasts based on managed care utilization may be more applicable under accountable care. However, these ratios are also imperfect. Developed during the 1990s, they do not account for care delivery innovations that can impact physician productivity or differences between traditional HMO patients and the broader population that may affect utilization.

But even if more reliable ratios existed, they would offer only a high-level starting point. They are not perfect predictors of physician need within a specific community.

Instead, health system leaders must carefully consider a range of unique market and organizational factors that can significantly influence the demand for and supply of physicians.

Key factors influencing physician supply and demand

This briefing explores how these factors affect physician network planning in three areas:

1. Demand for primary care physicians

2. Demand for specialty care physicians

3. Supply of available providers

You’ll also find a case study and a list of questions that can help you assess the unique impact of these factors on your own organization. Although the wide range of variables to consider may make physician needs assessment appear daunting at first, it’s important to recognize that you do not need to arrive at precise numerical projections to take meaningful action.

Instead, the goal should be to develop a directionally correct sense of provider need—a rough understanding of trends within different specialty areas that can guide recruitment and hiring, now and into the future.

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