The physician shortage: A red herring in American health care reform

Kent A. Corso, Kevin A. Dorrance, Jeffrey LaRochelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Although the USA spends more on health care than any other comparable nation, Americans are less healthy than citizens of high-income countries that spend far less. Over the past 12 years, the number of physicians per capita in the USA has been a concerning problem that may contribute to the disparity between health care costs and health status. Some have argued that remediating the shortage of primary care physicians will improve patient health. Others assert that the relationship between health care costs and health outcomes is more complex, influenced by a broad range of variables intrinsic to health care (i.e., provider availability, continuity, coordination); patient factors (ethnicity, socioeconomic status, health behaviors, health literacy, and other social factors); and systems factors (health information management, health information technology and health care measurement itself). This article contends that increasing the physician supply will not improve the health of Americans. Rather, solutions which lower health care costs while concomitantly improving health status will. Aside from community-level actions, health can improve at lower costs by increasing the prevalence of and proficiency in team-based care models, that address individual patient determinants of health, and poorly coordinated care. Future directions for this research and policy development are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-224
Number of pages5
JournalMilitary Medicine
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


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