How Do Disparities in the Physician Workforce Affect Patients?

Recent research indicates that disparities related to physician race or ethnicity, sex, or disability status may play a role in physician burnout.

Maintaining a sufficiently large physician workforce is “essential to optimizing patient care.” However, the size of this workforce has diminished in recent years.1 In fact, it is projected that by 2030, there will be a deficit of between 42,600 and 121,200 physicians.2 Numerous factors have been cited as contributing to this decrease; however, recent research indicates that disparities related to physician race or ethnicity, sex, or disability status may play a role (Table 1). The effect this has on patients is amplified by the fact that women, racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, and people with disabilities are more likely to experience the effects of this deficit than other groups.1  

Table 1. Contributors to Diminishing Physician Workforce

· Inadequate diversity
· Decreased recruitment of underrepresented minorities
· Decreased recruitment of physicians into non-primary care specialties
· Inadequate function and/or legislative/societal support for function for physician training
· Inequities in career advancement
· Attrition
· High levels of burnout
· Aging physician population
· Elevated suicide risk

From Silver JK, et al. Health Equity. 2019;3(1):360-377.

A recent review article in Health Equity explores “the role of physicians from these underrepresented groups in patient care, whether physicians from these groups are at elevated risk for problems that could exacerbate the projected physician deficit and, if present, how these problems might be addressed to both support physicians and enhance patient care, especially for the most vulnerable populations.”1

Julie Silver, MD, an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, is one of the authors of the review. She explained that its purpose was to see how the fair or unfair treatment of physicians who are women, who are from an underrepresented group, or who belong to a sexual minority affects patients and patient care.

“It is fairly obvious that if there are high rates of burnout or physicians don’t feel they are being treated fairly, they might end up cutting back their hours and retiring early and if we lose physicians for any reason, that affects patient care,” she told Medical Bag.

Dr Silver and colleagues investigated how physician workforce disparities affect patient care by searching 5 databases and reviewing 191 of 440 potentially relevant articles.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag