Blog | Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Primary care shortage: IMGs filled in gaps, but that's changing CDC says

As the primary care physician shortage worsens, international medical graduates (IMGs) have been critical to filling in gaps in care, especially in underserved areas, according to a CDC report released today.

In 2005-06, one quarter of all visits to office-based physicians were to IMGs, the report says. IMGs also saw a higher percentage of patients using Medicaid or SCHIP as payment compared with their U.S. counterparts and were more likely to practice in shortage areas outside of big cities. However, the report warns that it's getting harder to recruit IMGs to shortage areas because more are coming to the U.S. on less-restrictive visas. The U.S. may face "challenges" if visa policies affecting physician supply remain unchanged, the authors conclude.

With so many new medical graduates rejecting primary care for higher paying specialties and communities struggling to attract primary care docs, should we go back to forcing IMGs to practice in underserved areas as a condition of their visas? Or will the situation force the government to move faster on reforming the dysfunctional Medicare reimbursement system?