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The Real Reason Behind Michigan’s Doctor Shortage

The Affordable Care Act has been the target of a lot of negative criticism—some worthy of a critical discussion and some not. One issue that that could significantly benefit from a little clarification is the relationship between the Affordable Care Act and Michigan’s doctor shortage.

It has become apparent that many people have determined that the Affordable Care Act is the cause for Michigan’s doctor shortage. However, the state’s shortage in doctors has been expected for quite some time. Before these changes to national health care were even introduced, we had already anticipated a shortage of 4,000 doctors by the year 2015, and had even projected that by 2025 Michigan would be about 8,000 doctors short of the population needs.

If Michigan’s doctor shortage isn’t an effect of the Affordable Care Act, where can we point the finger? The answer is the shift of the baby boomer population into retirement.

affordable care actKnown as the largest generation of our time, the baby boomer demographic is now entering into the later stages of life and exiting the workforce. Naturally the older we get the more medical attention we require, causing an increased number of visits to medical practices and hospitals, as well as an increase in the complexity of health problems, therefore requiring more attention from more medical staff. In other words, as the baby boomer generation continues to age there is a greater demand for doctors.

But it isn’t simply more patients needing more care that is responsible for the shortage of doctors in Michigan. We can’t forget that many doctors are baby boomers, too. Of the 29,000 doctors currently working in Michigan, 7,250 are age 60 or older. This means that 25% of Michigan doctors are on the brink of retirement, leaving the healthcare profession permanently. Not only this, these doctors are themselves becoming the type of patient that requires more medical attention more frequently.

The Affordable Care Act comes into play only on top of the baby boomer effect, adding even more patients to the waiting list. However the Affordable Care Act is not the catalyst of Michigan’s doctor shortage. It is merely a poorly timed social service now functioning as a red herring.

There is a silver lining to this seemingly dark cloud that shouldn’t be overlooked, and that is the progressive measure that many healthcare facilities are taking to continue providing quality patient care as they grapple with the disparity of supply and demand in medicine. That measure is implementing continuity of care models into their existing structure.

Continuity of care–a model of healthcare in which organizations at many levels work together with the patient to increase the quality of care while decreasing costs—is indeed the answer to the problem of Michigan’s doctor shortage. The Henry Ford Health System of Detroit is one hospital that is making due efforts to implement continuity of care before the doctor shortage becomes a problem.

Recently, Henry Ford has been adding support staff to their facilities, staying open later, and extending hours for walk-in patients on both weekdays and weekends. The “nurse on call” system has been reinstated to reduce the number of patients coming in and to assist other customers in their efforts to take care of themselves at home. There is also a very large effort being made to provide quality patient care and reduce hospital readmissions, not only within the Henry Ford System but also statewide.

We can also look forward to a new generation of doctors, large enough in size to serve the 272,000 Michigan citizens now covered for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. At Michigan State University, for example, the medical program has doubled in size. Satellite classrooms have been added in the urban downtown Detroit as well as in the more rural Clinton Township. Medical students can assist more seasoned doctors and will likely choose to reside in the areas after their residency, helping to meet Michigan’s demand for doctors in two underserved areas.

Michigan has seen some hard times over recent years, but we have become more innovative than ever. Most importantly, we never stopped caring for each other. These efforts along with the technological advancements in healthcare will keep everyone from every generation in good hands.

If you are interested in improving patient care and reducing hospital costs while managing Michigan’s doctor shortage, find out more about ways you can partner with General Medicine.

Tom Prose