Health care experts to discuss Hawaii’s doctor shortage

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU—It’s recently come to light that Hawaii’s need for more doctors is far greater than health care specialists first estimated. Throughout the state, Hawaii falls short of national physician-to-population ratios.

Leaders in health-care and public policy will meet this week to address a worsening shortage of physicians in Hawaii. The Hawaii Physician Workforce Summit convenes on Tuesday, June 29 at 9:00 a.m. at the Waikiki Beach Marriott’s Hana Moku Room. The event, a working summit, is not open to the public at large, although more than 100 participants from all islands are taking part.

The summit will include the latest information from the Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment conducted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). The assessment, funded by a fee on physician licenses authorized by the Hawaii State Legislature, has uncovered the following warning signs:

·    Hawaii is at least 500 doctors below national averages, given its population, and the deficit may double or triple in the next decade.

·      The state has roughly 20 percent fewer doctors than it should when compared to physician-to-population ratios nationally.

·      Only about 2,900 doctors were practicing here, with some of those working less than part time. (Previously it was thought that as many as 8,000 physicians might be practicing here, but the study has determined that half of the licenses were held by physicians with mainland addresses, likely people who either are retired in Hawaii, practice with the military, or who work in other states but have kept their licenses hoping to return to Hawaii.)

·      County by county: Oahu has 17 percent fewer physicians than warranted by its population, Hawaii County’s shortfall is 38 percent, Maui County has 33 percent too few doctors, and Kauai County’s workforce is 30 percent below the average for its population.

·      Forty-three percent of doctors practicing in Hawaii will be 65 or older by the year 2020. (The average age of Hawai‘i physicians, 52.5 years, is older than the national age of 48, and may lead to an estimated 1,100 retirements during the next decade.)

The report of the Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment is due to be presented to the Hawaii State Legislature in 2011, and will also include data that has been gathered from focus groups made up of hospital administrators, doctors, students and business leaders.