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Report: Shortage of Primary Care Providers in Rural Arkansas

2 min read

A study released Wednesday showed Arkansas’ health care workers aren’t going to rural areas of the state.

The report, which was developed by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and funded by the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, found there was a 4 percent shortage in the state of primary care providers. There was a 38 percent oversupply of them in the central part of the state while there was a 33 percent shortage in southwest Arkansas.

In Arkansas, there are 2,077 primary care physicians practicing in the state, but to meet estimated demand, there needed to be 2,437, the report said.

While there’s a 23 percent oversupply in central Arkansas, there’s a 44 percent shortage of primary care doctors in southwest Arkansas and a 33 percent shortage in the southeast region, the report said.

The good news is that the supply of primary care clinicians is increasing in Arkansas and may approach the statewide requirements by 2020. But the rural areas of the state might not get the workers unless “effective interventions are found to make rural practice more enticing,” according to an ACHI news release said.

Some of the solutions, the report said, include:

  • Expanding health care coverage to more Arkansas.
  • Continuing to improve health information technology for telemedicine and design a common electronic health record system to allow for greater use by urban providers.
  • Design a transportation network that either transports primary care teams from urban to rural locations or transport patients from rural areas to urban area for care.

The report, called Arkansas Health Care Workforce: A Guild for Policy Action, has been in the works for 18 months. It was conducted to determine if there was a health care worker shortage in the state, Dr. Vic Snyder, corporate medical director for Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield, said during a conference call Wednesday.

“As many of you know, we have a health care system that is unsustainable, inefficient and it doesn’t give us the quality that we want,” Synder said.

But he said currently the state of Arkansas has a number of initiatives that will improve the health of the state. The General Assembly also is considering legislation to expand Medicaid to low-income residents.

“There’s a lot happening, there’s a lot of potential for goods things to come out of it for Arkansas, but it all depends on our workforce,” Synder said.

Arkansas Center for Health Improvement Director Dr. Joe Thompson said in the news release that Arkansas was already doing a lot to improve underserved areas of the state, including developing the trauma system and installing telemedicine connections.

“We may be coming from behind but we are making great progress in Arkansas,” he said in the release. “This report gives us all more definitive guidance as we move toward a health care system that works for Arkansas.”

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