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Doctor Shortage In State, Highest in Western Mass.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) —  Ever waited weeks, even months for a doctor’s appointment? You’re not alone. A new report reveals a doctor shortage in the state, especially in Western Massachusetts.

Western Mass. hospitals also have the hardest time filling doctor vacancies according to The 2012 Physician Workforce Study by the Massachusetts Medical Society. Some reasons include lower pay and competition with Boston’s large teaching hospitals.

And then there is the larger issue of a statewide shortage of specialists in areas including internal medicine, neurology and psychology. The largest shortage by far is with primary care physicians.

97% of people in Massachusetts have health insurance. But nearly a third of them had trouble finding treatment in the last year.

“We’ve seen sort of an opening up of access to care which is absolutely the right thing to do,” said Daniel P. Moen, President and CEO, Sisters of Providence Health System. “But again, that shortage of supply of physicians. So, there’s got to be a leveling out or equalization of supply and demand at some point.”

While medical schools are increasing enrollment, there are still few going into primary care because of lower pay.

“The current physician payment system sort of rewards procedure-based physicians,” said Moen. “So, many wind up making more per year than a primary care physician. However, with the change away from fee for service to global types of payments, I think you’ll see more level kind of compensation.”

Moen explained global payment.

“A flat type of reimbursement per month under which you really manage the entire amount of care for that patient, all different levels of care whether it’s ambulatory or hospital based and skilled nursing,” said Moen.

For now, Moen said the region has to sell itself better and compete for the few primary care physicians and certain specialists out there. They’re doing this in part by partnering with physicians groups for recruitment and by developing relationships with teaching hospitals.

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