Oklahoma has the worst access to healthcare of all of the 50 states in the U.S. Massachusetts residents have the easiest time getting an appointment. Those two findings come from a new system designed by Merritt Hawkins to rank the states' access to healthcare.
The Dallas-based physician-staffing firm Wednesday announced results from the Physician Access Index scoring system, which measures more than 30 benchmarks and ranks the states based on patient access to physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. States are measured by per capita data on physicians and medical residents.
In the final ranking, states are listed from 1 to 50 based on the presence or absence of factors promoting patient access to physicians or to inhibit access. A low cumulative score indicates more favorable physician access metrics, while states with a high cumulative score have the least favorable.
Overall, Oklahoma was ranked last, or No. 50, with a cumulative score of 1,096. By contrast, Massachusetts attained a cumulative score of 442.
The data shows that poverty rates can be key barriers to healthcare access, according to Merritt Hawkins. The study suggests that states take more immediate steps to increase the number of physicians they train by funding residency positions. The report also suggests states allow telehealth implementation; permit nurse practitioners and similarly qualified individuals to expand their practice abilities; and widen eligibility requirements for Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, if they have not done so already, according to the news release announcing the study.
The shortage of medical residents in Oklahoma is nothing new, according to state officials.
There are more medical students in the state than available residencies, said Wes Glinsmann, the director of state legislative affairs at the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
To keep Oklahoma's best medical students and to ensure rural patients have better physician access, the state's Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, which is funded by payments received from the tobacco industry in a 1998 settlement as part of a long-term strategy to improve population health, awarded a $3.8 million grant to the Oklahoma State University medical school that supports residency programs in rural areas, Glinsmann said.
Residency shortages are plaguing the entire country, not just Oklahoma. For the 2014-15 academic year, there 85,260 students enrolled in allopathic medical schools and 24,600 in osteopathic programs. There were 27,293 available first-year and 2,698 second-year residency positions open this past March.
For the 2013-14 academic year, there were 120,108 residents training in 9,527 programs at 4,591 institutions, according to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's annual report (PDF).
The shortage of physicians will worsen nationwide, experts say. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the U.S. will experience a physician deficit of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025.