No other profession involves the level of complexity that medicine or healthcare does. Responsible for improved well-being and higher life expectancy, healthcare professionals diagnose, treat, and even educate patients about various conditions.
When the COVID-19 pandemic had driven hospitalization rates to an all-time high, the US was reeling under a healthcare crisis. However, states like Missouri have yet to bounce back; their situation only seems to be worsening with time.
In this article, we will dive deep into the state’s current crisis along with current measures to overcome it.
The Ongoing Physician Crisis of the State
As per Statista, over 11,859 active physicians currently practice across Missouri. This figure looks huge in isolation only. For a state with a total population exceeding six million, such numbers are too low.
What’s even worse is that it seems like the future is equally bleak. It is expected that there may be a shortage of up to 3,100 doctors across Missouri by 2033. Just like the current scenario, this crisis will be worse in underserved rural areas.
By that estimate, one in five Missourians currently live in a location with precarious primary care. As much as 37% of the state’s population resides in rural communities. In contrast, only 18% of the physicians practice their profession in the rustic countryside.
Rural or not, 113 out of the total 114 counties are facing a physician shortage (nearly every area). This means most of Missouri’s residents need to travel over two hours to get diagnosed or treated (come emergencies or chronic ailments).
Factors Leading to Physician Shortages
Now, let’s look at some of the possible reasons behind the state’s healthcare crisis.
The Contested Medical Malpractice Law
Missouri has long been a state renowned for physician shortages and medical malpractice insurance dilemmas. Patients’ access to affordable and quality healthcare depends on how medical malpractice claims affect physicians.
For instance – suppose a patient has suffered some side effect as a result of a doctor’s misconduct in Missouri’s St. Louis. They could sue the respective physician with the help of a St. Louis personal injury attorney. If the malpractice was severe enough to be considered ‘malicious,’ the plaintiff would receive compensation for economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
This law itself led to instances of defensive medicine where doctors recommended additional tests expected by the patient. It made insurance premiums exorbitantly high for practitioners and ultimately increased the cost of healthcare.
It’s important to remember that medical malpractice laws are governed by each state (not the Federal government). Fearing any negligence, physicians took their practice elsewhere. However, this has changed a bit since 2020. Now, the plaintiff must prove that the physician’s misconduct was intentional to receive punitive damages.
This step is another move to solve the medical malpractice insurance crisis hitting the state in waves since the 1980s. TorHoerman Law suggests consulting with an experienced attorney within the state’s statute of limitations (two years). This way, plaintiffs’ justice will not be sacrificed on the altar of physician welfare.
Non-Preference for Rural Areas
Patients in rural areas are suffering the most as they barely have access to good physicians (especially surgeons). This is because these healthcare practitioners are hesitant to work ‘in the middle of nowhere.’
Again, it’s a well-known fact that one cannot easily make a name for themselves in a small countryside community. Also, business in a locum position inland will naturally be slow compared to a bustling city. Doctors are also looking for career advancement opportunities through a challenging professional environment.
The prospect of an uncertain career trajectory combined with loneliness has kept physician numbers low across Missouri’s underserved rural communities. Provisions to train physicians in rural settings (which also encourage them to practice there) are still underway.
This includes $16 million in funding to the University of Missouri School of Medicine from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The aim is to primarily help the geriatric population of the state (most of which reside in rural areas).
Healthcare Professionals Burnt Out
Earlier in the article, we mentioned that Missouri’s total number of physicians is over 11,000. Out of these, plenty of them belong to the Baby boomer generation (at least over 60 years of age). There is no mandatory retirement age for these professionals, but the current crisis has set a vicious cycle into motion.
Aging physicians have too much on their plate, and the workload is compelling them to call it quits. Even the younger physician demographics are yielding to the pressures of low productivity, exhaustion, and depersonalization.
The increased stress levels (both physically and mentally) are either pushing them to resign or reduce patient time. The ultimate result is that patient outcomes suffer as much as physicians’ well-being.
In some cases, limited residency or medical training programs are also forcing graduates to seek jobs outside the state. Last year, Missouri tried introducing the position of assistant or associate physician.
These healthcare professionals are distinct from physician assistants in the sense that they are medical graduates who are still pursuing residency training. Once the assistant physician has completed five years under a collaborating physician, they can become licensed.
However, such efforts have been ‘chronically unsuccessful’ as rudimentary physicians are called to deal with complex conditions like congestive heart failure. The state is still in its trial-and-error phase as it strives to tackle its worsening physician crisis.