National Doctor’s Day is celebrated annually March 30, and that’s a great time to remember the value of physicians throughout North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Doctors throughout our coverage area provide many valuable services, and do all they can to help patients get better.
But many of those doctors face challenges that need to be addressed soon. For rural doctors, an individual practice can be “just not sustainable,” due to the increased paperwork, decreased reimbursement, and surge in workload. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services illustrates that 20 percent of the American population live in a rural area, but only 10 percent of physicians work there.
That creates difficult decisions for those physicians. They typically see more patients than urban doctors, but often can’t spend as much time per patient. And, with reduced staff, they must do much of the mounting paperwork themselves and face long hours. Add in the declining reimbursement rates for insurances such as Medicare and the problem will continue to grow.
Recent efforts to grow the number of rural doctors have failed, a recent study in Health Affairs revealed. There are programs in place, similar to the Kansas Bridging Plan, a loan forgiveness program for doctors who agree to practice for three years in rural areas. In North Carolina, rural doctors can receive some loan forgiveness or even a service bonus of $50,000 for a 4-year commitment in high needs areas.
There needs to be more done. Rural doctors need higher reimbursement rates from insurance companies, and other measures are also on the table. Rural doctors must be appreciated through the long-term and not just on National Doctor’s Day. Providing an incentive for them is not only an investment in their practice, it is an investment for all who live in those areas.