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Online Program Tracks Medical Schools’ Impact on Access to Physicians

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Contact: Leslie Champlin
American Academy of Family Physicians
800-274-2237, Ext. 5224; lchampli@aafp.org

WASHINGTON — State lawmakers, education planners, researchers and policy makers can identify the impact of their medical schools’ effect on residents’ access to primary care, thanks to a unique program recently launched by the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

The program, dubbed Med School Mapper, is available at no cost to anyone who registers at http://www.medschoolmapper.org.

“We designed this program to help people understand the role of medical schools in their state in making sure they have access to the doctors they need, in the places they need them most,” said Andrew Bazemore, MD, MPH, assistant director of the Robert Graham Center. “People may not think about it much, but the medical schools in their state have a great deal of influence on the number and type of doctors the residents will have access to.”

The program shows the impact each medical school has on its home state as well as any county across the country. Depending on the selections made within the program, users can identify:

  • All the counties in which a school’s graduates currently practice;
  • The number of physicians in each county who have graduated from a particular school;
  • The medical schools that provide the most graduates to each county;
  • The percentage of graduates who are practicing in rural or underserved areas.

“In short, this application was built to help state policy makers, legislators, education and health care workforce planners better understand how each school currently contributes to their local area, to communities in greatest need and to the specialties at greatest risk of shortage” said Bazemore.

Understanding the role that medical schools play in meeting each state’s need for physicians is crucial to allocating federal and state resources for medical training. Multiple studies demonstrate improved health outcomes and decreased costs associated with access to primary care physicians, but 30 percent of Americans report having trouble gaining access to primary care doctors, and physician workforce studies predict a shortage of at least 35,000 primary care physicians by 2020. Similar shortages are predicted for general surgery, in rural areas, and in inner city urban areas trying to respond to the massive expansion of the insured and community health centers in the next five years.

Despite that, growth in medical education has focused on subspecialist physicians. Since 1998, the system shed 390 first-year family medicine resident training positions; 865 general internal medicine positions were lost, converted to preliminary year positions, or offset by opportunities to subspecialize. Primary care also lost 40 family medicine and 25 internal medicine programs during this time. Meanwhile, 133 internal medicine subspecialty programs opened.

“In evaluating medical schools, policy makers and the public have had only limited data, such as the U.S. News & World Report Rankings, with which to gauge how well medical schools and our residency training system are socially accountable in meeting America’s need for physicians,” said Bazemore. “The Med School Mapper adds a novel new perspective and an easily accessible information resource. We are deeply grateful to the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation and a national stakeholder advisory board for helping us to construct the Med School Mapper, to provide both the data and a clear picture of how well schools are meeting the needs of people within their state, their region and the nation as a whole.”

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The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care conducts research and analysis that brings a family practice perspective to health policy deliberations in Washington. Founded in 1999, the center is an independent research unit working under the personnel and financial policies of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.

November 10, 2010