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Increasing Primary Care Doctor Density Would Up Life Expectancy

MONDAY, March 22, 2021 -- Increasing primary care provider (PCP) density could increase life expectancy in counties with fewer PCPs per population, according to a study published online March 23 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sanjay Basu, M.D., Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues estimated the impact of alleviating PCP shortages on life expectancy and mortality. Data were included from 3,104 U.S. counties from 2010 to 2017.

The researchers found that in 2017, mean life expectancy was 310.9 days shorter for persons living in counties with less than one physician per 3,500 persons compared with those living in counties above that threshold. Increasing the density of PCPs above the 1:3,500 threshold in low-density counties would increase mean life expectancy by 22.4 days; all 1,218 of these counties would require an additional 17,651 physicians or about 14.5 physicians per county. Life expectancy would be expected to increase by 56.3 days if counties with less than one physician per 1,500 persons (2,636 counties) were to reach the 1:1,500 threshold; all these counties would require an additional 95,754 physicians or about 36.3 more per county.

"Our study reinforces the idea that PCP density may be disproportionately important for areas with low levels of care and that estimating the effect of making care more available may require disaggregation of the effects of adding PCPs to areas with fewer PCPs versus areas with more," the authors write.

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