Physician Shortage Grows Worse Across Texas

Recent analysis of primary care shortages in Texas shows that as of July 2021, 249 of Texas’ 254 counties have areas with shortages of primary care physicians. In 228 of them, the entire county has a shortage — nearly double what it was as of 2019.

Texas Public Radio recently reported on the numbers, which are especially concerning in rural areas that were already facing difficulty in meeting primary care needs.

These two maps from Texas Public Radio, drawn from data from the APM Research Lab, show the changes from 2019 and 2021. What is unclear from the data is exactly why so many more counties are now designated as shortage areas in their entirety.

Possible contributing explanations include population growth and reduced supply of primary care physicians due to burnout and retirement. Another possible factor is a changed definition of what constitutes a shortage area: the standard definition is an area with fewer than one primary care physician for every 3,500 residents. However, in communities with “high needs,” that ratio drops to 1 physician for every 3,000 residents.

What we do know is that the rapid increase of Texas counties currently facing shortages reveals the scope and extent of shortage difficulties facing the state even in 2019 and the change since then has created a profound impact on the state’s overall numbers.

Even if some of these factors are only temporary, they still indicate a pressing need to increase the supply of primary care providers as Texas expects to add nearly 10 million more people by its bicentennial in 2036.

To address these challenges, Texas must take steps to improve the accessibility of primary care in both the short-term and the long-term. In the short-term, Texas could increase the ability of highly trained nurses to practice independently in shortage areas and ensure that all areas of the state have sufficient broadband access to utilize telehealth.

In the longer term, Texas needs to explore how to ensure that its workforce pipeline is primed to meet the care needs of Texans over the coming decades.