Report shows access to primary care doctors is linked to mortality rates

Medical student taking a patient's blood pressure.
When their training is complete, medical students at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine could help address a shortage of primary care doctors in underserved areas of Washington.

SPOKANE, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine have issued a new report showing that increasing access to primary care physicians by just one physician per 10,000 people results in lower mortality for all causes of death in Washington.

The study examined data from the American Medical Association, the Washington State Department of Health, and the United States Census Bureau to analyze the intersection of neighborhood location, cause of death in decedents, and distance to a primary care physician (PCP). Across the state, the average PCP access score was 10 physicians per 10,000 people, with 21 block groups or neighborhoods having a PCP access score of less than one physician per 10,000 people.

Researchers found that a one-unit increase in PCP access score resulted in 6.2 fewer all-cause deaths per 100,000 people. Similarly, a one-unit increase in PCP access score resulted in 3.3 fewer cancer deaths and 2.0 fewer heart disease deaths per 100,000 people.

“These results build upon the ongoing discussion in our state and across the nation about access to physicians and health care. Even though we are seeing the numbers of PCPs increase across Washington state, they are largely concentrated in urban centers,” said Dr. Jonathan Espenschied, associate dean of graduate medical education and continuing medical education. “This study helps us more effectively identify health care gaps in Washington and determine best strategies for how we can fill them.”

Researchers are working on additional studies to dig deeper into the issue so the areas of greatest need and potential solutions for addressing needs can be identified.

“The study is the second phase of a multi-phase research effort to understand and identify the impact of access to physicians among communities and populations” said Ofer Amram, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. “The research will ultimately culminate in understanding the communities and populations with the greatest needs across the state to help the College of Medicine identify where it can make the greatest impacts with student recruitment, rural residency program development, and health care services.”

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