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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Policy challenges for the pediatric rheumatology workforce: Part I. Education and economics

Michael Henrickson

Author Affiliations

Division of Rheumatology, MLC 4010, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45229-3039, USA

Pediatric Rheumatology 2011, 9:23  doi:10.1186/1546-0096-9-24

Published: 16 August 2011

Abstract

For children with rheumatic conditions, the available pediatric rheumatology workforce mitigates their access to care. While the subspecialty experiences steady growth, a critical workforce shortage constrains access. This three-part review proposes both national and international interim policy solutions for the multiple causes of the existing unacceptable shortfall. Part I explores the impact of current educational deficits and economic obstacles which constrain appropriate access to care. Proposed policy solutions follow each identified barrier.

Challenges consequent to obsolete, limited or unavailable exposure to pediatric rheumatology include: absent or inadequate recognition or awareness of rheumatic disease; referral patterns that commonly foster delays in timely diagnosis; and primary care providers' inappropriate or outdated perception of outcomes. Varying models of pediatric rheumatology care delivery consequent to market competition, inadequate reimbursement and uneven institutional support serve as additional barriers to care.

A large proportion of pediatrics residency programs offer pediatric rheumatology rotations. However, a minority of pediatrics residents participate. The current generalist pediatrician workforce has relatively poor musculoskeletal physical examination skills, lacking basic competency in musculoskeletal medicine. To compensate, many primary care providers rely on blood tests, generating referrals that divert scarce resources away from patients who merit accelerated access to care for rheumatic disease. Pediatric rheumatology exposure could be enhanced during residency by providing a mandatory musculoskeletal medicine rotation that includes related musculoskeletal subspecialties. An important step is the progressive improvement of many providers' fixed referral and laboratory testing patterns in lieu of sound physical examination skills.

Changing demographics and persistent reimbursement disparities will require workplace innovation and legislative reform. Reimbursement reform is utterly essential to extending patient access to subspecialty care. In practice settings characterized by a proportion of Medicaid-subsidized patients in excess of the national average (> 41%), institutional support is vital. Accelerating access to care will require the most efficient deployment of existing, limited resources. Practice redesign of such resources can also improve access, e.g., group appointments and an escalating role for physician extenders. Multidisciplinary, team-oriented care and telemedicine have growing evidence basis as solutions to limited access to pediatric rheumatology services.