ALBANY, GA (WALB) - An expected shortage of doctors nationwide has medical practices looking at their own numbers.
By 2030, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the US could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians.
Here in Southwest Georgia, Phoebe Putney Health Systems have been working to fill the gaps. The corporation is using Advanced Practice Providers, or APPs, now more than ever before.
Interactions between APPs and patients are becoming more common inside Phoebe hospitals and primary care centers.
"I feel very comfortable with her. It's like seeing my doctor," said Carolyn Oliver, a patient at Phoebe who saw and APP on Friday.
Betsy Diaz is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She's commonly referred to as an APP or Advanced Practice Provider for Phoebe.
"It's been a very rewarding career for me. And as challenging as it was to get here I'm glad that I'm here and I'm glad I'm able to provide care to patients," said APP Betsy Diaz.
Diaz started as an emergency tech, on to a nurse and then to health information technology. Finally, Diaz decided she wanted to do more.
"It's something I've always been interested in doing, being able to talk to the whole person and their entire health," said APP Diaz.
Her schedule here at the Phoebe primary care is packed with patients. She sees them for a range of issues.
The number of positions like Diaz's is increasing nationwide. But the opposite is happening with doctors.
"There's a nationwide shortage of physicians and it's going to get worse. So between 60,000 to 90,000 physicians, we expect we are going to be short in the next several years," said Dr. Suresh Lakhanpaul, the Phoebe Physicians President.
The Complexities of Physician Supply and demand 2018 update projections from 2016 to 2030 show demand far outpacing supply in both primary care and specialty care.
Dr. Lakhanpaul said APPs are helping fill the doctor shortages. In fact, more than one third of the 300 physician group providers are APPs.
"They're a vital part of what we do," said Dr. Lakhanpaul.
He said in primary care some APPs have their own line of patients. In other areas, like vascular surgery, you may see a doctor sometimes and an APP for follow up visits.
"Their job is usually to help compliment and extend that physician so they are able to do a little bit more," Dr. Lakhanpaul said.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. By the time we get to 2030, the 65 plus population will increase by 50-percent. Experts said that will put a strain on the health care delivery system.
At that same time, as the population ages, doctors will too. Many are expected to retire in the next several years, which researchers said will also be problematic.
As more nurse practitioners are used, studies from various states show patient satisfaction increases too.
"I had good vibes from the beginning with her. She talks and explains things in detail about your health and what's going on," Oliver said following her appointment.
According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, nurse practitioners, like Diaz make up a significant share of primary care providers in the United States. When the University of Hawaii and U.S. Census Bureau studied eight states where nurse practitioners have the independence to practice and prescribe drugs on their own, researchers found an 8.6-percent increase in the number of adults who rated their care as excellent.
For now, APPs at Phoebe are helping fill the doctor shortage. As we move into the future, Dr. Lakhanpaul says he expects we'll see more technology help fill the gaps as well.