Maldistribution of Primary Care Workforce Challenges Efforts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, June 7, 2013

Leslie Champlin
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224

WASHINGTON — The shortage of primary care health professionals is as much a problem of distribution as it is of the workforce size, according to an analysis of data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The analysis, completed by the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, demonstrates the need for policies that both encourage more equal distribution of primary care health professionals and increase their total numbers.

Writing a one-pager, "Unequal Distribution of the U.S. Primary Care Workforce," published in American Family Physician, Graham Center research director Stephen Petterson, PhD, and his colleagues say, "Unlike many Western nations, the United States does not manage or actively regulate the number, type, or geographic distribution of its health workforce. As a result, health care professionals choose how and where to work. Equitable distribution of the workforce and access to care largely rely on market forces…"

The United States has about 80 primary care physicians for every 100,000 people. However, rural areas have 68 per 100,000, compared to urban areas, which have 84 per 100,000. The AHRQ data show that a total of 46,981 primary care physicians, 14,351 nurse practitioners, and 7,569 physician assistants practice in rural areas.

To meet a goal of providing a primary care physician for every 2,000 Americans — the goal set by the Health Resources and Services Administration — the United States would need an additional 2,670 rural physicians and an additional 3,970 urban physicians.

"New incentives and policies for distributing primary care physicians to areas of greatest need, as well as a larger absolute number of these physicians, will be needed to ensure access…," the analysts conclude.

Editor's note: To interview the study authors, contact Leslie Champlin at 800-274-2237, Ext. 5224, or


The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Primary Care and Family Medicine 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.

To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multimedia highlighting family medicine, visit For information about health care, health conditions, and wellness, please visit the AAFP's award-winning consumer website,

June 07, 2013