Online Tool Predicts Physician Shortages at Local, National Levels

August 1, 2014 in News

Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have developed a Web-based tool that helps predict physician shortages at local, state and national levels and can be leveraged to guide industry changes, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Details of Tool

The FutureDocs Forecasting Tool is the first model to analyze shortages down at a local level, according to the Observer (Price, Charlotte Observer, 7/30). The tool was funded by the Physicians Foundation and UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

The Web-based application incorporates the concept that specialists have overlapping “scopes of practice” to provide a customizable display of physician shortages or surpluses in various locations. It can track and predict changes from 2011 to 2030.

The interactive tool can be adjusted for different scenarios, including:

  • Adoption of state insurance exchanges or Medicaid expansion;
  • Alterations to the amount of patient care full-time employees;
  • Redistribution of graduate medical education slots; and
  • The use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

In addition, the researchers used feedback from physicians and hospital groups to frame the tool’s supply and delivery data in the most realistic way possible (UNC press release, 7/30).


Using FutureDocs, researchers found that the physician shortage problem is caused in part by the way doctors are distributed among specialties, rather than a lack of doctors.

Specifically, the researchers found:

  • Capacity to treat pediatric surgery patients could double by 2030 (Charlotte Observer, 7/30);
  • The number of patient care full-time employees could decline by 12% in general internal medicine between 2011 and 2030; and
  • The number of mental health visits already exceeded capacity in 2011 and could become worse by 2030 (Murphy, EHR Intelligence, 7/30).


The researchers suggested that the tool can be used to:

  • Address physician distribution problems; and
  • Suggest more efficient spending on graduate medical education (Charlotte Observer, 7/30).

Lead researcher Erin Fraher said, “Our hope is that the FutureDocs Forecasting Tool will reframe how people think about physician supply and demand” and that it “will help educate and engage stakeholders to create actionable workforce policy at the local and national levels” (EHR Intelligence, 7/30).

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