5 ways this medical group is overcoming the physician shortage

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

AMA News Wire

5 ways this medical group is overcoming the physician shortage

Apr 1, 2024

Physician shortages are affecting health care systems nationwide, which can have long-lasting effects on public health. And while the physician shortage in the U.S. has become a growing concern in recent years, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group has emerged with a notable increase in hiring. 

Since the start of 2023, nearly 250 physicians have joined the medical group—more than they have ever hired in a single year. These doctors have experience and expertise from more than 45 physician specialties. 

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Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, which cares for Kaiser Permanente members in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., is a member of the AMA Health System Program. The program provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

“The United States is facing a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. That includes 48,000 primary care physicians,” said Richard McCarthy, MD, executive medical director at Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. On top of that, “nearly 45% of active physicians in the United States are 55 years or older. And then in the country, about 10,000 people are turning 65 every day, so there’s a demographic boom in need for health care. At the same time, there’s an anticipated shortage of physicians.”

“Our goal is to make sure that we’re the best place to get care. That means we also have to be the best place to work,” Dr. McCarthy said. “I don’t think you can do one without the other, because whoever’s going to succeed in health care is going to be able to both recruit and retain excellent physicians.”

“The average turnover rate for physicians is about 8% to 10% each year, and we’re lucky in Permanente Medicine that our rates are about half that—we have only 4% turnover, which is great,” he said. “But we’re really lucky in that we recruited over 250 doctors last year—about 70 primary care physicians and more than 170 specialists. 

“And then we have an additional 100 doctors coming within the next 12 months, which is one of our best years in recruiting,” he added. 

Here is how Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group has recruited new physicians and, critically, continues to retain them as well.

“A lot of thanks goes to our recruiting team who continuously innovate their recruiting practices,” Dr. McCarthy said, noting “they implemented tools like search-engine optimization using augmented intelligence (AI) to source candidates.”

Additionally, there was a recognition of “the fact that you always have to recruit. Even if you have no open positions,” he said. “Given the fact that we’re prepaid in a closed network, you have to make sure that you have a ready supply of physicians who you are interested in, particularly in primary care.”

That focus is essential, Dr. McCarthy noted, “because in a module of 10 family physicians who are taking care of 20,000 patients, if you were to lose one or two, you can have a really great module go from a great place to work to unbearable, heroic type of work.” 

“Our specialists are able to get patients in to see them in one-third the amount of time that an outside network can because we are better staffed as a result of our success in recruiting,” Dr. McCarthy said.

“We also tried to hone the whole recruiting process because we know that primary care doctors have hundreds of opportunities. The key is making sure that you’re sourcing the best physicians, making sure that they get answers quickly,” Dr. McCarthy said. “And that the process for recruitment doesn’t have untoward barriers for them to get to know their potential new work family.”

“We make every effort to try to accommodate candidates as much as we can so that we’re able to fill our positions,” he said. 

“It’s incredibly important to be able to effectively source physicians. And what we try to do is focus on physician referrals,” Dr. McCarthy said. “We don’t financially reward physician referrals, but we encourage our docs—especially newly graduated docs—to go back to their training programs and talk about how our practice is different.”

In 2023, 12% of applicants hired to Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group were referred by a Permanente physician. 

“One of the advantages that we have is that we’re physician-run. So, we don’t work for private equity firms. We don’t work for a hospital. We don’t work for a CFO [chief financial officer]. We work for physicians,” he said. “We are focused on getting our physicians out there and talking about our practice.” 

“The other thing that we’re doing is creating more clear pathways for physicians who want to pursue, say, quality- or process-improvement leadership opportunities, patient-advocacy opportunities,” Dr. McCarthy said. It is important to give physicians such pathways “so that they can enhance their practice over the course of their careers.”

And the key to that is to “get feedback from physicians,” he said. “For practice itself, we’re working to become more organized in terms of various growth and opportunity pathways for our physicians like process improvement, physician leadership and research because we know that at a certain point in practice, physicians want to expand, learn more, contribute beyond clinical work.”

Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group also is exploring the power of health care AI to make doctors’ lives easier, recently going live with ambient listening to improve physician charting. It has been shown to save about an hour every day

Using the microphone on a secure smartphone, the ambient AI scribe transcribes patient encounters and then uses machine learning and natural-language processing to summarize the conversation’s clinical content and produce a note documenting the visit. 

“The next few decades for medicine, it is going to be critical for groups to differentiate themselves in terms of what they offer physicians and make sure that we support physicians in practice—both clinically and extra-clinically in terms of other opportunities,” Dr. McCarthy said.