Large medical group practices aligned with HMOs have physician-to-patient ratios more than one-third lower than the national average and still provide top-quality care, according to a new study published on the Health Affairs Web site. The study reviewed eight large, prepaid group practices serving 8 million enrollees in Kaiser Permanente, Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and HealthPartners in Minnesota. The number of physicians in the medical groups per 100,000 enrollees was 139 for Kaiser, 144 for Group Health and 134 for HealthPartners -- well below the national ratio of about 229 physicians per 100,000 population. "This study provides evidence that organized (group practices) in urban and suburban areas provide high-quality, cost-effective care to a diverse insured population with considerably fewer physicians than are now available in the nation at large," said study author Jonathan Weiner, deputy director of the Health Services Research and Development Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Weiner said the study suggests that policymakers should "deliberate carefully" before concluding an expansion of medical training programs is necessary to meet future demands. Read the study. -- by Michael Romano
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