Solutions to Reduce Imminent Primary Care Shortage in California


Janet Coffman and Kris Himmerick

June 12, 2018

California needs a comprehensive strategy for primary care workforce development to alleviate a statewide shortfall of primary care providers that is projected to occur within the next 15 years. According to a report released June 12 by Healthforce Center, this comprehensive strategy should include efforts to enhance the education pipeline, improve recruitment and retention, maximize the existing workforce, and leverage workforce data.

Over the past 16 months, Healthforce Center at UCSF has developed a series of reports funded by the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. that analyze the current and projected supply, demand and pipeline for primary care clinicians in the state. These are the first reports in many years to bring together information on primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at state and regional levels. “Strategies for Expanding Primary Care Capacity in California” is the third and final report, which provides examples of specific strategies and the questions policymakers should ask when considering implementing them.

While California has recently proposed some legislation to deal with the shortage issue, none are holistic or comprehensive enough to fix the problem, the authors said.

“California leads the nation in technology, culture and economic growth but faces major challenges when it comes to providing the most basic form of health care: primary care,” said Janet Coffman, PhD, MA, MPP, an author of the reports and associate professor of health policy at Healthforce Center, Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, and Department of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF.

“California  is making important strides in some areas, such as increasing funding for residency programs for primary care physicians, but piecemeal initiatives are insufficient to meet the state’s needs. We hope this report can be used to develop a comprehensive approach to address primary care shortages in California.”

The overall goal of the reports is to enable stakeholders to assess the adequacy of the current workforce, anticipate future gaps and identify effective policies for addressing these needs, the authors said. Due to the uneven distribution of care across the state, the most acute shortages are anticipated in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern Border areas.

Healthforce Center at UCSF has conducted research about the health care workforce in California and across the United States for more than 25 years. Its studies assist providers and policymakers in addressing critical health care challenges with rigorous analysis and actionable, unbiased data.