Increasing primary care physicians could boost life expectancy, reduce deaths in underserved areas

Submitted on Tue, 03/23/2021 - 14:48

On behalf of ABFM, we are pleased to share the following news release from Annals of Internal Medicine featuring a recent article, Estimated Effect on Life Expectancy of Alleviating Primary Care Shortages in the United States, involving ABFM collaborators.

Increasing the number of primary care physicians in underserved areas could prevent more than 7,000 deaths per year in those areas and boost life expectancy by an average of 56 days. To achieve such gains in death prevention and life expectancy, the U.S. physician work force would need to add 95,754 new physicians to its ranks and allocate them in shortage areas. Findings from a modeling study are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Studies have shown that having a greater number of primary care physicians per population is associated with reduced population mortality. For this reason, addressing the primary care shortage is a public health priority. A shortage is defined as having fewer than 1 primary care physician per 3,500 residents in an area.

Researchers from Harvard Medical studied population health data for 3,400 U.S. counties to estimate how alleviating PCP shortages might change life expectancy and mortality. They found that individuals who lived in counties with more acute shortages had an average life expectancy that was 311 days shorter than individuals living in counties with more primary care physicians. The gap in life expectancy grew wider—629 days—when researchers compared counties with 1 primary-care doctor per 1,500 individuals and counties with fewer than one primary-care physician per 1,500 people.

According to the researchers, these findings underscore the need for increasing access to primary care by encouraging physicians to consider practices in underserved regions of the country.

Media contacts: The corresponding author, Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, can be reached through Ekaterina Pesheva.