Lawmakers must address looming physician shortage
BY World's Editorial Writers
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
1/31/12 at 3:01 AM
A measure that could help address the looming shortage of physicians in Oklahoma is on its way to the Legislature. We can only hope that lawmakers appreciate the seriousness of this problem and agree to do something about it.
Last week, the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education agreed to ask lawmakers for $4 million to fund the Oklahoma Healthcare Physician Shortage Initiative. Regents want to direct $1 million each to the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, and a total of $2 million to regional and community colleges. The money would go toward helping to increase the number of medical students in the state's educational pipeline.
Oklahoma is plagued by a host of chronic and in some cases worsening health woes, including such problems as tobacco use, obesity and access to primary health care.
The access problem has grown worse in recent years as aging doctors retire and are not replaced by newcomers, especially in remote and rural communities.
In fact, one national publication recently found that Oklahoma will have the worst access problem in the country as the ranks of the Medicaid population grow in response to federal health-care reform.
Both the OU and OSU medical schools' leaders are well aware of this looming crisis and have taken steps in recent years to address the doctor shortage, including plans for expanding enrollment. Leaders also are developing creative new ways to access specialty care and recruit doctors into rural areas.
There's just no getting around the fact that Oklahoma's health issues cannot be greatly improved without access to primary care. If there's no doctor's office nearby, just where are Oklahomans supposed to go for the help they need?
Original Print Headline: Help needed