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Using “Plasticity” to Model a Community’s Need for Health Care Services

Researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research have introduced a new way of thinking about how to determine physician supply and medical specialty configurations in order to meet health care needs.

In an article published in Academic Medicine (November 2013), the authors explore how the concept of “plasticity” could help improve workforce planning by policy makers, healthcare organizations, and rapidly changing health care delivery systems. “Plasticity” is the idea that there are multiple configurations of physicians able to meet a community’s use of health care services.

This novel approach acknowledges real-world variability in the kinds of conditions managed by physicians with the same specialty. This represents a departure from past health care workforce modeling methods, which have traditionally relied upon a silo-based headcount of the supply of physicians within a particular medical specialty. The “siloed” method ignores the reality that physicians with different specialties can treat and manage the same conditions.

“The implication is that multiple configurations of physicians (and, by further application, other health care professionals) can meet a community’s utilization of health care services,” according to Mark Holmes, lead author, director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program at the Sheps Center and associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

In the article the authors demonstrate implementation of the plasticity matrix for sufficiency of physician supply using Wayne County, NC, as the model.

“Communities and policymakers can use this idea to develop healthcare provider recruitment strategies that best meet the healthcare needs in their communities. Over 78 of the 100 counties in North Carolina do not have a sufficient number of primary care providers, according to the Area Health Resources Files (AHRF), and the concept of “plasticity” may help address this shortfall,” said Holmes.

This project was funded in part by the Physician’s Foundation as part of the FutureDocs Modeling Tool Project, directed by Erin Fraher. For an abstract of the article, please see this link.  Access to the full article requires a subscription.

For more information please contact:
Lisa Beavers
North Carolina Rural Health Research Program