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Contributed commentary by Adam M. Voydik, student at Arizona State University.
Clarksville faces a shortage of physicians compared to the national average. Medical doctors number 118 per 100,000 residents in Clarksville. The national average for physicians per 100,000 residents is 210. Due to the limited number of physicians available, Clarksville’s cost of healthcare is 8% higher than other places in the United States.
The lack of primary care providers is a substantial built environment issue for Clarksville and Montgomery County. A limited number of primary care physicians hurts population health and equitable outcomes, which is due to various factors including decreased wages and increasing physician age. Since 2019, Clarksville’s population has increased by 13,600 residents, while organizations like the Veterans Administration are refusing to accept new patients due to overcrowding.
Clarksville residents are clamoring for greater access to healthcare providers as their population booms. Many Clarksville residents, 17.8%, are veterans. The veteran community comprises some of those most affected by Clarksville’s physician shortage. The disadvantaged veteran population in Clarksville is being referred to other Veterans Administration clinics far from their residences. Since 2020, the United States’ healthcare infrastructure has maneuvered to improve telehealth services. Telehealth services may serve as a viable means to address Clarksville’s physician scarcity.
The Veterans Administration utilizes telehealth services for many of their patients. Telehealth services improve one’s access to care in a timely manner. Tennova is Clarksville’s primary hospital. Over the past six months, Tennova has been diverting patients, as they do not have the capability to admit any more. The limited number of physicians and telehealth resources are resulting in longer ER wait times, emergency medical service transport overload and a sicker population. Clarksville emergency physicians have reached out to other facilities for medical support.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville continues to support Tennova by facilitating patient transports and accepting transfers, however, their efforts will not fix Clarksville’s physician shortage. Tennessee’s Healthcare Innovation Initiative (THII) aims to improve healthcare access. THII is changing how healthcare is paid for by moving towards value over volume. THII stakeholders are coming together to implement three strategies, which are primary care transformation, episodes of care, and long-term services and supports. Through initiatives like THII, Clarksville’s physician population will steadily improve.
Clarksville residents need more physicians to suitably handle the increased healthcare demand. Programs supported by the state government, like THII, stand a chance to improve access to care for all Tennessee residents. As Clarksville continues to grow, incentivization programs should be adopted to draw new physicians to Montgomery County. Telehealth services will enhance Clarksville’s currently existing medical infrastructure by ensuring prompt care for non-emergent cases. The prioritization of primary care is a no-fail objective to improve and sustain Clarksville’s community health.
Adam M. Voydik