Are Doctor Shortage Hurts

Local Doctors


The metro area that includes the cities of Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario isn’t looking too bad when it comes to regular exercise and health insurance coverage for residents.

But the doctor-patient ratio? It’s killing us.

That is the conclusion of a new health ranking of the 50 largest metro areas in the United States. The study by NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based consumer finance company, also looked at fitness and obesity in determining an overall health score.

The Inland region’s dismal ratio of 168 physicians per 100,000 residents — the lowest of the 50 places analyzed — pushed it to one of the least healthy places to live. Combined with the other measures used in the ranking, the Inland area is fifth from the bottom after Dallas, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Orlando.

“The doctor shortage is a problem we’ve seen nationwide, but it definitely crops up more in some areas than others, especially rural and lower income areas,” said Napala Pratini, the analyst.

To come up with the ranking, Pratini standardized five metrics on a scale from zero to 100, then took the average.

Numerous other California cities made the list of healthiest metro areas, including San Francisco (No. 2), San Jose (No. 6), Sacramento (No. 9) and San Diego (No. 12).

The top spot went to Boston, which was cited for its high number of insured residents thanks to 2006 healthcare reform pushed by Mitt Romney. The city also was lauded for government-sponsored fitness and weight loss programs, including one that offered free fitness classes to residents throughout the summer.

All of those factors play a role in reducing obesity, cholesterol and hypertension that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke, conditions that are expensive to treat, said Dr. Phyllis Guze, executive dean of the UC Riverside School of Medicine.

The Inland area’s doctor-patient ratio wasn’t even close to the next-lowest, Las Vegas, which has 207 physicians for every 100,000 patients. In comparison, some cities have more than 500, and Boston has 581, according to the survey.

The doctor shortage will become more pronounced because of people newly eligible for health insurance under Obama’s healthcare reform.

“What it means is access to non-emergency or non-urgent medical care is hard to get or delayed,” Guze said. “Without access, the whole issue of preventive care is not available.”

Area leaders have a number of initiatives under way to try to fill the gap.

UCR gives priority to local students for medical school admission and offers graduate programs hoping to lure budding healthcare professionals to stay here, Guze said. The medical school, which opened in 2013, also is offering some four-year scholarships to students who agree to practice as primary care doctors in the Inland area for five years after graduation.

“We’re not going to be able to turn this around tomorrow,” she said.

Delores Green, executive director of the Riverside County Medical Association, said healthcare in the area is drastically underfunded, which makes it hard to attract physicians. Medicare rates set in the 1980s classify the area as rural, which has lower reimbursement rates, and the state Medi-Cal program also is behind the times, she said.

“Right now we only have 50 percent of the physicians needed to care for our population,” she said. “Then you have additional people seeking healthcare, we’re going to have a problem in trying to care for all of those people.”

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