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Where are the doctors? They’re not in Idaho.

This map shows where Idaho needs more primary-care providers. A health professional shortage area is an underserved population. A population-group HSPA, shown here in red, means a subgroup — typically low-income — is underserved. A geographic HSPA, in pink, means everyone in a county is underserved.
This map shows where Idaho needs more primary-care providers. A health professional shortage area is an underserved population. A population-group HSPA, shown here in red, means a subgroup — typically low-income — is underserved. A geographic HSPA, in pink, means everyone in a county is underserved. Map by Lindsie Bergevin. Research by Audrey Dutton.

Gov. Butch Otter says a new osteopathic medical school planned in Meridian will help ease Idaho’s physician shortage. But many local doctors and health care leaders question whether the school would truly ease Idaho’s long-standing physician shortage.

The shortages are most severe in rural, underserved areas, and they occur across the state. There are too few primary care doctors to care for all of Idaho’s patients, many of whom are uninsured or covered by low-paying Medicaid.

In these maps, HPSA means “health professional shortage area.” A geographic HSPA means everyone in a county is underserved. A population HSPA means a subgroup — typically low-income — is underserved.

Idaho is relatively well-stocked with osteopathic doctors. Their scope of practice is as broad as that of conventional, “allopathic” doctors with M.D. degrees, but they more often go into primary care than into surgery or specialized medicine. Nationally, there were an average of about 20 osteopathic doctors per 100,000 people in 2014, according to the latest state physician-workforce data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Idaho’s rate was about 22 per 100,000.

What has dragged Idaho’s national rank of doctors per capita to the bottom of the list is its lack of allopathic doctors. Idaho has just 170 per 100,000 people, compared with the U.S. rate of 246. The gap that has narrowed somewhat in recent years.

But the M.D. remains the norm. The number of active allopathic doctors in Idaho in 2014 was about eight times the number of osteopathic doctors.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey

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