Jan 25, 2023 - COVID

Massachusetts data shows drain of family doctors

Illustration of a health professional carrying a cardboard box packed with office items.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Massachusetts officials released new data today confirming what doctors already suspected: Primary care physicians left their specialty at a higher rate than the national average, exacerbating challenges for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driving the news: 3.6% of the state’s primary care physicians left the field in 2020, the most recent year the data was available, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis.

  • That’s higher than the national rate of 3.3%.
  • It’s also higher than the rate in 2018, when an estimated 3% of the state’s doctors left primary care, compared with 2.7% of doctors nationwide.

Why it matters: The primary care drain has affected patients for years. The trend worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and left patients less likely to get care when they needed it.

  • In 2021, 33.9% of state residents said they had trouble getting health care in the past 12 months, up from 32.4% in 2019.
  • People who can’t see their primary care doctor often end up foregoing care, or in some cases, going to the ER instead.

CHIA’s data report did not explore the reasons behind the increase in resignations, but one factor health care leaders point to is pay.

  • Less than one-quarter of medical students go into primary care, which generally pays less than other areas, per CHIA.

What they’re saying: Those who do pursue primary care struggle later on with the lower pay, massive debts and the challenges that come with such a difficult specialty, said Asaf Bitton, executive director of Brigham and Women's Hospital’s Ariadne Labs, last year.

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