Hawaii needs hundreds of doctors, with shortage expected to worsen

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Hawaii is facing a critical shortage of doctors, and it’s expected to get worse. 

Though a known problem for years, Dr. Kelley Withy, instructor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine said, “We’re starting with a shortage and we’re not making up for it. We have an aging population so it’s just getting worse and worse.

“We’re not training enough, not recruiting enough, and many who do come from the mainland leave,” Withy explained. “Sometimes they can’t afford a house. Our salaries are low here compared to the mainland. We are (ranked) 50th out of 51 states (and Washington D.C.) for salary reimbursement.”

Research from the John A. Burns School of Medicine show the state is short 700 doctors. Of those, 282 are primary care physicians.

“These are last year’s numbers. We’re doing this year’s numbers and it’s looking a little worse,” said Withy. “If you’re in Honolulu and you’re 18 years old. There’s a lot of pediatricians who can’t find a lot of doctors for kids who age out. So you may be 25 and still seeing your pediatrician.”

The state is in dire need of specialty doctors, including surgeons, orthopedic, infectious disease, critical care, and pulmonary.

The shortage is worse on the neighbor islands. 

“If you break your leg in a car accident on the Big Island, you may have to wait a lot time to see an orthopedic surgeon. You may have to be medevaced here. You may be bleeding a lot, and it could get serious,” said Withy. 

To fix this, the school is adding more training facilities so medical students aren’t just learning on Oahu. 

Over at the Capitol, Rep. Linda Ichiyama, vice chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee, is pushing for another way to alleviate the problem. 

“It’s a new and different way of looking at it we haven’t done before,” said Ichiyama.

Ichiyama wants the state’s insurance commissioner to regulate requirements for health provider networks. 

The insurance commissioner would look into wait times for an appointment, the ability of the insurance providers to meet patients needs, and if there are enough doctors on each island.

The resolution passed the House, and is now at the Senate for a full review.

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