Health Law Daily Comprehensive, coordinated planning needed to combat impending health care workforce shortage
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Comprehensive, coordinated planning needed to combat impending health care workforce shortage

By Mary Damitio, J.D.

If federal estimates are correct, the nation will be facing a health care workforce shortage in various practice areas by 2025, which could threaten patients’ access to care. HHS funds various educational and training programs aimed at maintaining an adequate health care workforce, but a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the department does not engage in comprehensive planning and oversight to ensure that the programs are sufficient to meet the country’s health care needs (GAO Report, No. GAO-16-17, December 11, 2015).

Workforce shortage. Some studies suggest that various factors such as a growing demand for services, an aging population, population growth, and increased access to health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) will result in provider shortages that could hinder access to care. The report notes that the country already faces workforce shortages in primary care and in rural areas and that by 2025, it is estimated that there will also be national or regional health care workforce shortages in the areas of dentistry, psychiatry, general surgery, and nursing.

Inadequate planning. HHS funds a larger number of educational and training programs to ensure that there is an adequate supply of health care professionals. While HHS does perform some planning for 72 health care workforce programs, it does not engage in comprehensive planning and oversight to ensure that its programs are meeting the country’s health care workforce needs. HHS currently employs broad strategies that do not specifically reference workforce issues or ways the programs can contribute toward meeting HHS’ goals. Additionally, it does not have an ongoing formal process to ensure that its programs are aligned with national needs.

Various external stakeholders, including the Institute of Medicine and the Council on Graduate Medical Education, reported that the graduate medical education (GME) funding is lacking oversight and infrastructure that is necessary to track outcomes, reward performance, and to respond to workforce challenges. Additionally, HHS’ workforce programs do not target areas of workforce needs such as primary care and rural providers.

Recommendations. HHS should develop a comprehensive and coordinated planning approach that includes performance measures and identifies ways to fill the gaps between its workforce programs and the country’s needs. HHS concurred with the recommendations and stated that the National Health Care Workforce Commission, which was created under Section 5101 of the ACA, has the potential to enhance its planning approach, but that the commission has not received federal funding. HHS also indicated that it plans to add two new workforce-specific strategies to the next update to its strategic plan.

Companies: Institute of Medicine; Council on Graduate Medical Education

MainStory: TopStory GAOReports GMENews EmploymentNews RuralNews

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