NC using new health care models to tackle doctor shortage - WNCN: News, Weather

NC using new health care models to tackle doctor shortage

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The Triangle is renowned for its medical and research centers. But behind the scenes, there is a shortage of doctors, mostly primary care physicians. Experts believe the shortage nationally could be as high as 130,600 by 2025.

Some believe that Obamacare will complicate the already short supply of doctors.

Dr. Lloyd Michener is the Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Duke. He says people are struggling these days to find a doctor.

"That's one of the challenges of North Carolina. Like many states are, there are places in the state where it's hard. Eastern North Carolina, up towards the Virginia border, we have places that are severely short," says Michener.

Michener says an aging population and more patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, is contributing to more patients. He also adds that the cost of medical school is having many students pick a specialty practice over the less lucrative primary care. Now tack on Obamacare.

"We're going to have a lot of folks getting insurance, often for the first time, and being able to handle that surge of need is something we're quite concerned about," says Michener.

The state has been developing new health care models, with nurse practitioners and physician's assistants doing more. Duke, where Michener works, pioneered the physician's assistants program, and it is now becoming one of the fastest growing areas in medicine. In 2007, there were 3,016 nurse practitioners. Today, there are 4,600.

But the problem remains.

"We want to make sure medical care is accessible. We are trying to make sure we train enough people," says Michener.

But in rural areas, like Harnett County, the shortage appears to be worse, but that could soon change with new facilities like the Central Harnett Hospital, which opening January, and Campbell's Medical School. Although Campbell is serving as a model to bring in more health care providers to rural areas in North Carolina, medical professionals are bracing for the unknown that comes with ACA.

"I think the honest answer is no one really knows yet," says Dr. Christopher Stewart, hospitalist at Central Harnett Hospital."

Stewart says it's unclear what Obamacare will mean for doctors. 

"We were overwhelmed just taking care of people within a 10 to 15 mile area, so I've lived it firsthand. I've seen people that want to find a doctor, simply cannot find a doctor," says Stewart.

Stewart says the new hospital has been a blessing. Right now, in exchange for a two year commitment to practicing primary care at Central Harnett Hospital, doctors can get government money towards their medical student loans.

"We need OBGYN's, we need general surgeons, we need specialists," says Stewart.

And the hope lies in Campbell University's new School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Stephanie Meadows is a first-year medical student at the new school. Meadows, who grew up in Kinston, says her childhood shaped her decision to become a doctor.

"My brother had asthma growing up. We would have to go to Greenville for different test," says Meadows.

Heather Robinson is a former EMS worker who is now training to be a Physician's Assistant.

"I wanted to go further in medicine because I got tired of dropping off patients and not hearing what happened to them. So I wanted to get involved more," says Robinson.

Stewart says the future lies within PA's and nurse Practitioners. He believes they will provide the bulk of primary care in our state and country.

With the anticipated shortage increasing, the N.C. Institute of Medicine has called on medical schools to increase enrollment by 30 percent. According to the primary care task force update released this year, the University of North Carolina received approval to increase from 160 students to 230, with many of those students in regional campuses in Asheville and Charlotte. But that's on hold until there is enough funding.

Meanwhile, the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University increased from 73 students to 80, but expansion to 120 students is also on hold until there is more funding.

Neither Duke nor Wake Forest expanded its medical school enrollment.

Despite so many looming questions about the future, the desire to practice medicine is as strong as ever.

"I don't feel that my calling to become a physician was impacted on new regulations or politics or even financial aspects of the job. My calling to become a physician is based solely on the need to help others," says Meadows.

Attitude like Meadows is allowing other medical professionals to have hope for the future.

"I'm actually incredibly optimistic despite all the problems and the disagreements. We're in one of those transformational times of change," says Michener.

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