University study finds state’s doctor shortage worsening
Shortage has grown to 769, compared with 707 in 2016
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s doctor shortage is worsening, except on the island of Kauai, a University of Hawaii assessment found.
The total shortage has grown to 769, compared with 707 in 2016, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.
The university’s Physician Workforce Assessment found Oahu needs 381 physicians, up from 339 last year, while the Big Island is short 196 providers, compared with the 183 needed last year. Maui County has a deficit of 139, up from 125, while Kauai needs 53 doctors, down from 62.
Primary care providers are the largest group in short supply, followed by infectious disease specialists on Oahu and Kauai, colorectal surgeons on the Big Island and geriatric doctors in Maui County.
“We need to train more, recruit more and make it the best place to practice in the country,” said Kelley Withy, the University of Hawaii professor who conducts the annual assessment.
A major player in the shortage comes from the state’s high cost of living and lower pay for medical providers compared with the mainland, among other social issues such as quality of schools, Withy said.
The health care industry for years has struggled to recruit doctors, particularly to rural communities on the neighbor islands.
“Many have given up practices to work for hospitals, and many private practices have closed because of that,” said Dr. Edward Gutteling, an orthopedic surgeon in Hilo. “Other doctors that are coming out are scared of private practices. They all want to get jobs and have a paycheck, so private practice is dying.”
Gutteling thinks the state should invest in an emergency medevac system and designated referral center that has the capability to take patients around the clock, he said.
“The community as a whole thinks they can go to Hilo Medical Center and they will be taken care of. That is their assumption, but it’s not true,” he said. “They pretend to have a trauma system. If we are short of specialists, we should put people on a helicopter or plane and get them out of here, instead of pretending that the community hospitals on the neighbor islands can take care of anybody at all times, because they can’t and they never will because we don’t have the population to support it.”