U.S. family doctors and pediatricians tend to be concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural kids in medical need, according to a new study released December 20 in the journal Pediatrics.
Theoretically, the United States has enough doctors to treat its kids, but the lack of rural doctors means that nearly a million children live in areas with no pediatrician or family doctor, says the study.
The study was led by Dr. Scott Shipman of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. His team used national data to calculate the per-child supply of working pediatricians and family physicians across the U.S.
The study reveals that kids in Mississippi have the worst access to medical care, with 42% living in regions with few doctors nearby. However, there are kids in every state facing the same situation, as Shipman’s study reports:
Nearly 15 million children (20% of the US child population) lived in local markets with 4400 children per child physician (average of 22 child physicians per 100 000 children). In addition, almost 1 million children lived in areas with no local child physician.
In other words, pediatricians tend to cluster in wealthier urban areas (the study gives Washington, D.C. is an example).
This unequal distribution of physicians to U.S. children is not easily remedied, and Dr. Shipman expressed concern. He told the Associated Press that medical schools are graduating new doctors at an increasing rate, but the result will likely be more doctors in places where there’s already an oversupply, that is, wealthy urban areas.
He indicated that financial incentives for doctors willing to practice in rural areas might be what’s needed to change the trend.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.