Economists offer perspective to alleviate stressed healthcare industry

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New research addresses the impact coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on healthcare, including staffing shortages and restricted access to quality patient care.

The study, published in the journal, Health Policy Open, was conducted by economists Edward Timmons, PhD, and Conor Norris at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.

As a result of the primary care shortage due to the global pandemic and witnessing how some policymakers enacted temporary waivers of licensing restrictions, the economists provided six alternatives on how to move forward.

Ranked from most to least effective, the alternatives were as follows: changing medical education; expanding physician and nurse practitioner independence; federal regulation of telemedicine; expanding the interstate medical licensing compact; special telemedicine licensing; and national licensure.

The study found that occupational licensing reduces the supply of professionals in a regulated field, and decreases geographic mobility, contributing to the primary care professional shortage. In addition, researchers concluded that the scope of practice laws reduces the flexibility of practitioners, exacerbating these shortages.

According to the economists, the fundamental challenge of primary care physician shortages will continue to grow. This is due to strict requirements for becoming a physician and that the United States was already facing this shortage before the pandemic. The study found that redesigning medical education and allowing physicians and nurse practitioners to practice independently, encouraging telemedicine, and making migration between states easier will better help undeserved populations receive care. In addition, they found regulatory regimes that ensure access to high quality, convenient care through low administrative burdens will improve patient health.

“COVID-19 has been very costly, but if there is one silver lining, it has prompted some rethinking of the many healthcare regulations,” Timmons said in a statement. “If it made sense to eliminate the regulation during the pandemic, it is worth considering if the regulation will be necessary moving forward.”