Increasing Number of Family Physicians Practicing in Rural Emergency Care and Urban Urgent Care

Submitted on Thu, 05/09/2019 - 15:50

Recent data shows a significant increase in the proportion of family physicians working primarily in rural emergency departments and an increasing number of family physicians working in urgent care centers. 

The 2017 data was taken from a sample of over 9,000 family physicians responding to the American Board of Family Medicine’s (ABFM) Family Medicine Certification Examination registration questionnaire with 84% of respondents concentrated in urban areas. The data shows that 5.0% of board-certified family physicians primarily practice in emergency departments and 5.9% primarily practice in urgent care centers. The number practicing in emergency departments increased to 13.4% in small rural areas and 29.1% in frontier areas.  

“These data are the best available in the US, and what they show is important,” said Warren Newton, MD, MPH, President and Chief Executive Officer of the ABFM. “Large numbers of Family Physicians work in Emergency Departments, especially in rural and frontier communities—and this contribution has grown over recent years. I believe that this is a great example of what family physicians so often do: they do what their communities need them to do, and they do it well.” 

Previous data, from 2008-2012, shows that 3.6% of family physicians worked primarily in emergency departments while 3.1% of family physicians worked in urgent care centers. This may tell only part of the story, as family physicians often cover rural and frontier emergency departments (12.2%) and urgent care centers (5%) in addition to their primary outpatient practice setting. The significant proportion that this group represents demonstrated the plasticity of family physicians to tailor their practice to what their community needs.

According to Dr. Douglas E. Henley, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Academy of Family Physicians, “These data show the importance of the training, experience, and demonstrated competence of family physicians to effectively practice in urban and especially in rural emergency departments to meet the needs of their communities.”

Despite the growing number of physicians trained in emergency medicine, this research indicates a likely continuance of emergency departments and urgent care centers that are dependent on broad scope family physicians to meet their staffing needs.

The complete article can be found here:

Correspondence and inquiries should be addressed to: Lars E. Peterson, MD, PhD, American Board of Family Medicine; email: [email protected]