State faces doctor shortage in coming years, ISMS president warns

Ann Knef Feb. 11, 2011, 1:37am


Illinois State Medical Society President Steve Malkin, M.D. said that a shortage of doctors in the state needs to be addressed now, not when there is a workforce crisis.

Malkin was in Edwardsville Thursday morning talking about the organization's upcoming legislative agenda and other statewide issues. He also was scheduled to speak at a Madison County Medical Society meeting.

He said the state is looking at a looming workforce crisis because very few new doctors are going into primary care practice. And, the existing workforce is aging with a high percentage close to retirement age.

"You don't have to be an economist," he said. "It doesn't look good."

Starting a practice with loans of up to $150,000-$200,000, high malpractice insurance rates and low reimbursements are discouraging new doctors from going into lower paying fields, he said.

"The workforce issue can't be fixed in one or two years," he said. "It will take a decade or more to fix."

For example, he pointed to the community of Hillsboro, which Malkin said is served by seven doctors who are close to retiring. One of those doctors has a son in medical school, but it is not certain that he would return to his hometown to set up shop. Malkin said the doctors in Hillsboro have been trying for "a few years" to hire new doctors, but with no success.

He said if you take away the family ties issue, Illinois is not a very attractive place for new doctors to establish practice.

"The weather? Not so hot," he said. "Malpractice? Not so hot. Reimbursements? Not so hot."

"There's going to be problems eventually if there is no internal medicine or family medicine (doctors)," he said. "Rural and underserved areas" will be hit first.

In the wake of the Illinois Supreme Court's decision a year ago to overturn the state's 2005 medical malpractice law capping damages, the ISMS will be looking "at other things" in its upcoming agenda, Malkin said.

For one thing, he said the ISMS will be looking at introducing expert witness reform legislation.

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