About a third of Californians live in areas where there is a shortage of primary care clinicians. The shortage is particularly acute in rural areas such as the Inland Empire, Northern California and the Sierras, and San Joaquin Valley. The rapidly growing Inland Empire has only 40 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, far below the recommended range of 3,000 to 3,500 physicians.
For patients, this can mean months-long waits for appointments and preventable trips to urgent care for chronic conditions. And for clinicians, burnout looms. How did we get here, and what are some strategies to address the shortage?
On a recent KQED Forum program, Dr. Sunita Mutha, director of Healthforce Center at UCSF, a general internist providing primary care, and professor of medicine at UCSF, provided insights into what’s driving the primary care shortage.
Said Mutha, “It has become increasingly difficult for people at an earlier stage in their primary care careers to meet all the time demands – the time demands are real, the administrative demands are real, and the reimbursement issues are difficult. We are seeing greater difficulty recruiting and attracting and retaining, and the financial pressures are significant for people who have a lot of educational debt. It becomes a question of whether this is a sustainable career and lifestyle.”
But there are reasons for optimism. “We are investing more into primary care than we have in generations,” said Mutha, “[And there is growing recognition] that primary care is critical first-line care for physical and behavioral health needs… the one thing that predicts better health outcomes.”
Listen to the full discussion, "California Grapples with Primary Care Provider Shortage" from 4/28/2023 on KQED Forum.
For more insights, see five strategies to cure the shortage and Healthforce Center’s research on primary care supply and demand.