NPR logo U.S. Has Plenty Of Doctors To Treat Kids, But Many Aren't Where They're Needed

Treatments

U.S. Has Plenty Of Doctors To Treat Kids, But Many Aren't Where They're Needed

Where you and your kids live in this country can make all the difference in getting an appointment to see a doctor to take care of them.

Click on the map to see where the pediatricans are and aren't. Courtesy of Pediatrics hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Pediatrics

Click on the map to see where the pediatricans are and aren't.

Courtesy of Pediatrics

The number of pediatricians and family doctors who treat children are all over the map.

The good news is that, in theory, there are plenty of these doctors to go around. But the reality is that some parts of the country, such as wealthy suburbs and cities like Washington, D.C., are chockablock with them while others, mainly rural areas, are bereft.

Overall, the number of doctors for children has grown quite a bit faster than the population of kids, according to an analysis just published in the medical journal Pediatrics. The nation's supply of pediatricians increased 51 percent to almost 39,000 in 2006 from 26,000 a decade earlier. And the number of family docs who spend at least some of their time taking care of children rose by 35 percent to 83,000 from a little less than 62,000.

And how many more kids are there? About 9 percent more — or 6 million, which was just shy of 74 million total in 2006.

So what's the problem? A lot more docs and a few more kids should mean clear sailing, right? Well, it boils down to where all those new docs choose to practice. By and large, they're piling into the places that already have enough MDs and not going to outlying areas that have been hurting for quite a while.

The fact that the influx of doctors hasn't made things better is a bad sign. "I worry that it could get worse," lead author Dr. Scott Shipman of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice told the Associated Press.

Article continues after sponsorship

Idaho had the biggest problem, as a state, with more than 2,000 kids for every doctor available to care for them. But there were big problems within states, such as Maine and Missouri, where there were areas with high concentrations of doctors and others with obvious shortfalls.

So what to do? Some researchers have written previously that the "maldistribution" of all sorts of doctors is pretty much a problem without a solution.

The authors of the Pediatrics study say that's not good enough. Some 6.5 million children live in places where the supply of docs is particularly low. Just graduating more doctors, or allowing more foreign doctors into the U.S., probably isn't the answer, their analysis shows. Without providing a specific plan, the authors argue that public funds for doctor training should be targeted to increase the number of kids' physicians in poorly served areas.