The number of full-time equivalent primary care physicians providing direct patient care in Delaware in 2018 declined about 6 percent from 2013, a trend that resulted in a slightly lower percentage of physicians statewide who are accepting new patients, according to a new University of Delaware study of the primary care physician workforce commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Services.
The study, done by the university’s Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research, also found that the reduction likely will continue, with fewer primary care physicians expecting to be active in five years, especially in Kent County.
Kent has the highest rate, 25 percent, of physicians 65 and older, compared with Sussex County, 16 percent and New Castle County, 13 percent. Only 60 percent of primary care physicians in Kent County reported that they will be active in five years, compared with 70 percent in Sussex County and 78 percent in New Castle County.
Despite the workforce trends, the study found that there are a sufficient number of primary care physicians in Delaware, although their locations and specialties are probably not optimal.
In 2018, there were 815 individual primary care physicians practicing in Delaware, down from 862 in 2013, and a full-time equivalent of 662 physicians statewide in 2018 vs. 707 in 2013. The study found that the 2018 numbers are at the upper range of what is desirable. Both Kent County, with 2,069 patients per primary care physician, and Sussex County, with 2,014 patients per physician, are above the 2,000-to-one ratio used by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to designate shortage areas.
DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a board-certified family physician, said the trends point to the need to strengthen the dwindling primary care workforce in Delaware.
“The best preventive care and the most cost-effective care is provided by a strong and coordinated primary care workforce,” said Walker. “Primary care providers know their patients and their medical histories best, and can provide the most effective, high-value, longitudinal care for chronic health conditions and other preventable disease. As state government officials, our priority is to find ways to incentivize frontline care to perform as coordinated teams that are ultimately accountable for population health. We also need more primary care physicians to remain in practice and find ways to encourage new doctors, including those from minority and rural backgrounds, to choose primary care as their specialty.”
State Sen. Bryan Townsend and Dr. Nancy Fan, chair of the Delaware Health Care Commission, are co-chairs of the Primary Care Collaborative, which is working on long-term solutions to support primary care in the state. The collaborative was created through Senate Bill 227, which aimed to strengthen primary care through a series of changes, including requiring insurers to reimburse primary care physicians and other frontline practitioners at the Medicare rate for the next three years. The collaborative, which has been meeting since September, is expected to issue its long-term recommendations by Tuesday, Jan. 8.
To download the study, go to www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/pubs.html.