Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Doctor Shortages?

How many doctors does it take to adequately serve 1000 people? The number varies with country, it seems. In 1997, two countries with highly rated health care systems, France (WHO rating 1st) and Germany (WHO rating 25th), had about 3.3 doctors per 1000 population, but Japan, also highly rated by WHO at 10th, had only 2.0 doctors per 1000 population. Similarly, the United Kingdom (WHO rating 18th) and Canada (WHO rating 30th) had 2.1 doctors per thousand. The less-highly rated United States (at 37th place) had an intermediate number of 2.7 doctors per 1000.

More recent data indicate that the number of doctors in the United States has declined to about 2.38 per 1000, but, curiously enough, a report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development states that the number of doctors in Canada has been stable at 2.1 per 1000 for at least 20 years. The number in Alaska is about the same, 2.05 doctors per 1000 population.

Obviously, the quality of medical care in a country does not critically depend on the number of doctors the country has. However a recent report from the Alaska Physician Supply Task Force notes that because of Alaska's size, rural nature, and extremes of weather, the state really needs more doctors than it has. It should have about 10 percent more doctors per 1000 than the United States as a whole, the report recommends. Presumably the same is true for Canada because of its similar geography.


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