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Modeling the future physician workforce

A new interactive tool allows hospitals, health systems and others to forecast physician workforce needs

A new tool for modeling the physician workforce is now available for free to hospital and health system administrators, policy makers and others.

The Physicians Foundation is making its FutureDocs Forecasting Tool available online beginning July 30. The tool is an open source, interactive physician projection model created with help from researchers from the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Take your mind away from there’s an answer to the number of physicians we will need,” said Erin Fraher, PhD, the project’s lead. The tool seeks to offer a measure of relative capacity – what you get when you model what patient care needs are or will be with how those needs can be met by the different types of physicians available in various regions across the U.S.

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The tool allows users to customize by implementing different variables. Users can select, for instance, specific care settings and regions in their states and the impacts of Medicaid expansion, retiring physicians and usage of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“Because the model has data at the sub-state level, it provides a tool to understand what the workforce in their market currently looks like, what it will look like in the future, what types of services patients in their market will be seeking and how well their workforce will be able to meet those needs,” Fraher told Healthcare Finance News in an emailed response following a webcast introducing the tool to the media.

The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, FutureDocs Forecasting Tool, 2014.

“Armed with information about potential shortages/surpluses, they can figure out how to train, recruit, retain or redesign the workforce to meet their needs,” she added.

The dataset for the tool draws from Dartmouth Institute for Health Care Policy and Clinical Practice’s hospital referral regions, the American Medical Association’s Physician Masterfile and certification data from the American Board of Medical Specialties, among others.

In the belief that modeling physician supply also means understanding the state of graduate medical education, the tool allows users to try out scenarios based on potential changes in GME, which, Fraher noted in her presentation, is especially important in light of the Institute of Medicine’s newly released report on GME.

The IOM said in its report, released on July 29, that the country’s GME system needs an overhaul. “Current financing – provided largely through Medicare – requires little accountability, allocates funds independent of workforce needs or educational outcomes, and offers insufficient opportunities to train physicians in the health care settings used by most Americans,” said a press release from the National Academies announcing the report.

In addition to using the FutureDocs Forecasting Tool to forecast the impact of potential GME changes, said Fraher, it can be used by hospital and health system administrators to advocate for more Medicaid dollars to be spent on the needed specialties in their areas.