An innovative new tool is now available to help policy makers, physicians and health systems better plan where to practice and what type of practitioners will be needed to meet the growing utilization of healthcare in the United States.

Launched by The Physicians Foundation and the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the FutureDocs Forecasting Tool is an interactive web-based model that estimates the supply of physicians, use of physician services, and capacity of the physician workforce to meet future use of health services at the sub-state, state and national levels.

"The tool is a significant advance in workforce modeling because it is based on the concept of plasticity--the idea that physicians in different specialties have overlapping scopes of practice," say UNC officials. "Plasticity takes into account the multiple configurations of physicians able to meet patients’ needs for care in different communities. The majority of current national workforce models focus on silo-based projections by physician specialty."

The tool was funded by a grant from The Physicians Foundation, a national nonprofit that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians and facilitate the delivery of healthcare to patients. The tool is designed to engage policy makers, clinicians and health system executives to better understand and address the imbalances in the supply and distribution of physicians.

Among key discoveries the tool's authors found are:

*The number of pediatric surgery patient care FTEs is projected to double from 2011 to 2030, with growth occurring throughout most of the country. This finding contrasts with current concerns about a pediatric surgeon shortage.

*General internal medicine in the U.S. is projected to experience a 12 percent decline in patient care FTEs between 2011 and 2030.

*Between 2014 and 2030, population growth and aging will be more significant contributors to rising healthcare use than the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance coverage expansion.

*By 2030, many specialties that were previously majority male will become over 50 percent female.

*The number of mental health visits exceeds provider capacity in the majority of areas in 2011, and these geographic disparities become more pronounced by 2030.

The tool is available here.

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