Physician Perm July 5, 2023

Is There an Ideal Physician-to-Population Ratio?

Physician-to-Population Factors and Variances

Hospitals, medical groups, physicians and other healthcare organizations and professionals often express interest in physician-to-population ratios. Are there ratios that show how many physicians in various specialties are needed to serve a population of 100,000? The answer is yes, there are several. However, caution should be exercised when considering these ratios because when it comes to medical service areas, one size does not fit all. 

A comprehensive medical staff plan will include not just physician-to-population ratios but also a complete analysis of local demographics as well as a portrait of the existing medical staff.

With that proviso in mind, suggested physician-to-population ratios are worth considering because they at least provide a baseline for how many physicians in various specialties a service area may need, and the base line can later be refined with more data. Perhaps the most prominent physician-to-population ratios are the ones promulgated by the Graduate Medical Education National Advisory Committee (GMENAC). Other such ratios include the ones developed by researchers Hicks and Glenn and the consulting firm Solucient. However, all of these ratios, particularly GMENAC’s, which were released in 1980, are dated. 

The most recently developed ratios, and the ones Merritt Hawkins believes to be most pertinent, are those developed by the late noted physician supply and utilization expert Richard “Buz” Cooper, M.D. of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Cooper’s ratios are the most recent we are aware of and use a real world “demand-based” model to show how many physicians in various specialties a given service area may be able to support economically, rather than how many the area may theoretically need.

Below are some suggested physician-to-population ratios from three sources showing how the ratios may vary.

Suggested Physicians Per 100,000 Population

                                          GMENAC                Solucient                  Cooper 

Family Medicine                    25.2                         22.5                         30.4

General Surgery                      9.7                          6.0                           7.9

The variances in these ratios illustrate why a more in-depth picture is needed when developing a medical staff plan to ensure the plan fits the characteristics of a particular service area.

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