The United States has been facing a doctors shortage for a few years, but the coronavirus crisis has exposed just how big the problem is. Medical institutions have been warning that there could be a shortage of up to 120,000 medical professionals by 2030 nationwide, according to research by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
To alleviate some of the current shortages, thousands of health care workers from all over the country, many of them retired, have asked to come back. But the labor shortage could worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads as doctors and nurses inevitably fall sick.
Having access to a primary care doctor is more important than ever. Primary care physicians are typically the first contact for people with any health concern. A referral from a GP is required to be tested for COVID-19, even at drive-through test sites.
To find the number of doctors per capita in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on primary care physicians from the 2020 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Most of the states with the fewest doctors per capita are in the South. So far, the states with the most confirmed coronavirus cases also have relatively higher numbers of doctors per capita, and vice versa — with the exceptions of Texas and Georgia. These two states are in the top 10 states with fewest doctors per capita but in the top 15 of states with the most COVID-19 cases. In some places, there is also a shortage of hospitals. Amid the pandemic, these are the counties with the fewest hospitals.
The variation between states with the most and fewest doctors per capita is stark. It ranges from 112.8 doctors for every 100,000 people in the state with the most doctors per capita to 52.6 per 100,000 in the state with the fewest doctors per capita — less than half the concentration of the best state.
States with a lower doctor-to-resident ratio share some common attributes, including generally lower median household incomes and higher poverty rates than comparable U.S. figures. Among the 20 states with the fewest practicing physicians per capita, 14 have a poverty rate that is higher than the national average.
Many of the states with the fewest doctors per capita also have a relatively high uninsured population. Fifteen of the 20 states with the lowest concentration of doctors have uninsured rates that are higher than the U.S. average of 8.9% — in one state, almost a fifth of the adult population is without health coverage. On the other hand, 19 of the 20 states with the most doctors per capita have lower uninsured rates than the national rate.
The country is relying on doctors, health care workers and the medical system as a whole – which is often overwhelmed even in normal times – now more than ever to fight the intensifying outbreak.