As noted in previous reports, the number of Wisconsinites over the age of 65 is expected to double by 2030. In rural areas, health care workers are also aging quickly, making those areas more vulnerable to shortages in certain care professions.

“Physician shortages, an aging population and workforce, and increased vacancy rates and turnover strain the health care workforce,” report authors said. “Add in record low unemployment, stagnant labor force participation and lagging reimbursement, and health care in Wisconsin is faced with a worrisome equation.”

To get ahead of this trend, the report’s authors say lawmakers should continue to support the state’s “balanced medical liability environment,” which they say contributes to more workers staying in the state.

They also suggest providers lean more heavily on technology such as telemedicine, which can break down the physical barriers to care many rural residents face.

The report notes 55 of the state’s 72 counties have a shortage of psychiatrists, and 15 percent of those practitioners are 65 or older.

It takes about 12 years to become a psychiatrist, so many of the state’s psychiatrists are expected to retire before more can step in to fill the gaps. Report authors argue telemedicine can make these providers and others more accessible, “if supported by regulation and reimbursement.” They say Medicaid reimbursement for telemedicine should be treated just like in-person care.

To grow and retain the state’s overall physician workforce, WHA says lawmakers “must continue” to sustain state funding for graduate medical education opportunities in the state. Report authors point to the “86 percent equation” as reasoning for doing so.

They say a Wisconsin student that goes on to a Wisconsin medical school, and then completes a Wisconsin graduate medical education residency has an 86 percent chance of staying in the state to practice medicine.

“Policymakers, health care leaders, health care educators, and other key stakeholders can tackle this worrisome equation together by acting with urgency now to implement solutions that protect access to high-quality health care in the future,” said Ann Zenk, vice president of workforce and clinical practice at WHA.

See the full report: