Wisconsin needs primary care doctors to fight next phase of COVID-19

Posted at 6:57 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 19:57:53-04

Wisconsin has a shortage of primary care doctors in the state who will play a vital role in the recovery phase of this pandemic.

According to a report published last week by the Legislative Reference Bureau, 40 percent of the need for primary care physicians is unmet, and Wisconsin needs 150 physicians to fill that need.

In southeast Wisconsin, Kenosha and Walworth counties have a full shortage, and Milwaukee, Racine, and Washington counties have a partial shortage.

Dr. Leonard Egede, Director of the Center for Advancing Population Science at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said it would be essential to track the need of primary care doctors once the Safer at Home order is lifted and people feel more comfortable going to their doctor's office.

He said many people have been putting off going to the doctor during the pandemic. But once the safer at home order is lifted, there may be a rush of patients looking for treatment.

"It's going to be a rapid... surge in need for regular clinical services and primary care is essentially where most of the entry point for most patients," Egede said.

A shortage of doctors could mean people have to wait longer and travel farther to see their doctors, especially in rural communities where the shortage is the greatest.

Egede said the Medical College of Wisconsin is trying to make primary care more attractive for medical students through shortened programs and help with student loans.

"We have a lot of programs now pathways in medical school that really allows us to expose these individuals very early on into the primary care fields," Egede said.

Something that will be needed as the state expects to have another 740 vacant primary care physician positions in the next 15 years, according to the LRB report.

Egede mentioned one positive out of this pandemic has been the rise in the use of technology to provide care through programs like telehealth. He said it could carry over to help provide care to areas where people may have to travel otherwise to see their doctor.

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