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Retail Responding to Market Demand for Primary Care

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 12, 2014

First the bad news: Fewer doctors and the retail sector's knack for delivering price transparency and convenience are collectively putting physicians on notice. Now the good news: There's plenty of work for everyone.

Someone needs to respectfully inform physicians that, at least on the primary care front, they've already lost the scope-of-practice battle they've been waging from coast to coast against nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other nurse clinicians with advanced degrees.

As in so many battles, it comes down to numbers.

1. A Dearth of Doctors
For starters, there aren't enough physicians around to provide access to care, especially as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act extends health insurance coverage to millions of people. The American Medical Association reports that the median age for all physicians in the United States is about 51 years, and so the physician shortage is expected to worsen as more physicians retire in the coming decade.

2. Price Sensitivity Ratcheting Up
Second, the rise of high-deductible health plans means that patients will become much more price sensitive and start acting more like consumers. Primary care practices led by physician assistants and nurse practitioners most likely can be run with the same efficiencies as physician-led practices and probably with reduced labor costs.

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