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New Hope for Rural Areas Short on Doctors

PHOTO: A new proposal would provide doctors an easy way to practice in multiple states, and could especially help rural, medically underserved areas. Photo credit: Duke Medicine
September 22. 2014
PHOTO: A new proposal would provide doctors an easy way to practice in multiple states, and could especially help rural, medically underserved areas. Photo credit: Duke Medicine

RALEIGH, N.C. - A new plan to allow multi-state licensing for physicians could help fill the gap in areas without enough health-care services. If at least seven state legislatures agree to what's known as a multi-state compact, a licensed doctor could easily get permission to practice medicine in any of the compact states. Kevin Bohnenblust, executive director with the Wyoming State Board of Medicine, says the compact would be especially useful for bringing specialists from a big city to a rural area with a small number of patients.

"They might only have three or four patients, but their services would be critical," Bohnenblust says. "What we're hoping is where there are under-served areas, it will give added flexibility."

The details of the compact were unveiled this month and Bohnenblust says it's already receiving interest from across the country. In a report released this month by the website BetterDoctor.com, Raleigh and Greensboro are among the top cities in the country facing a physician shortage, in part because of the growth of population and business in the region.

Under the compact, a doctor could pay a fee and go through a fairly simple process to get an additional license. Bohnenblust says that's much simpler than getting separate licenses to practice in multiple states, although he says doctors would still have that option. He adds if a license under the compact was suspended in one state, it would be suspended in all of them. The compact, according to Bohnenblust, is designed to make services such as telemedicine easier to do.

"We're all getting more comfortable with doing things like Skyping and FaceTime," he says. "As patients become more comfortable with it and as physicians and other health-care professionals become more comfortable, you'll see more and more care driven that way."

Bohnenblust says the compact should be especially useful for doctors who want to operate a practice on both sides of a state line.

"Being able to make it so a physician can move between those two states and be able to provide care on kind of a seamless basis for a patient."

Because of the anticipated shortage in ,a href="http://www.fsmb.org/" target="parent">North Carolina, the N.C. Institute of Medicine, has asked medical schools to increase enrollment by 30 percent.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC