Not Enough Doctors?

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M.Sc, MPH

Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece titled “Why the Doctor Can’t See You” by John Goodman, President of the National Center for Policy Analysis.  The central point of Goodman’s piece suggests that under the Affordable Care Act the “demand for healthcare will increase dramatically,” and there simply won’t be enough physicians in the United States to provide all this care.

Really?

While the United States does rank 53rd out of 145 countries in physicians per capita, with 2.4 medical doctors for every 1000 people, our country ranks higher than Japan at 2.1 MDs/1000, Canada at 2.0, China at 1.4, and India at 0.6 (according to a World Health Organization report). The global average is 1.4 doctors per 1000 people. The highest doctors-per-capita healthcare systems are those in Cuba (6.7/1000) and Greece (6.2/1000).

What does all of this mean? Does this mean that Cuba and Greece have a much healthier population than the U.S.? Canada has a universal healthcare system, offering healthcare to everyone, at a per-capita rate of 2.0 doctors. Can Canada provide its citizens with adequate healthcare delivery? It can, and it does. Can Japan handle healthcare demand for its people with only 2.1 MDs per 1,000, especially given its aging population? I dare say that it can, and it will.

So, if providing more healthcare services to people in the U.S. through the Affordable Care Act results in an uptake in demand, does that mean this country will not have enough doctors to administer even the basic of preventive services? Certainly, the author of the article would like you to believe so. But let’s check some other facts.

According to the recent Bloomberg report ranking the healthiest nations in the world, coming in at number one is Singapore, with only 1.8 doctors per 1000 people. Japan came in at number five, with only 2.1 doctors per 1000, while Canada was number 14, with only 2.0 doctors per 1000. Cuba, which has the highest rate per capita of physicians (6.7) ranked number 28 in healthiest nations. Wait, where did the U.S. rank with its 2.4 doctors per 1000 of population—it came in at 33rd place! And Ukraine came in at the 99th place in healthiest nations, even with a per capita doctor rate of 3.2 (which is one-third more doctors than we have in the U.S.).

So, it’s not about having more doctors to keep a nation healthy. Perhaps it’s all about having the right attitude about health. Perhaps it’s about having a government that is committed to offering the best healthcare services to as many people as possible, and adopting a “healthy nation” attitude. Perhaps it’s about everyone becoming accountable for one’s health and wellness, and abandoning the entitlement attitude that the government will look after everyone. Perhaps it’s time politicians stop fighting over whose healthcare program it is, and look at some of the world’s healthiest nations to learn some lessons about adopting the right attitude. It’s really not about having enough doctors.

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