East Hawaii News

Legislature Funds Physician Training Program in Hilo

July 9, 2013, 6:27 PM HST
* Updated July 9, 6:28 PM
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State lawmakers this session provided a $1.8 million boost to efforts to increase the number of primary care physicians both in Hawaii and on the neighbor islands.

House Bill 417 provides funding for the primary care training program at Hilo Medical Center.

The program consists of a variety of medical discipline residencies including family medicine, nursing, dental hygiene, pharmacy and psychology.

The bill said the training program, which will be expanded to other neighbor island health facilities, will generate interdisciplinary teams capable of caring for four times as many patients as independent practicing physicians.

 “The recruitment and retention of physicians, advanced practice nurses and support teams in Hawaii’s rural areas is an on-going challenge,” Bruce Anderson, former president of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which runs the state hospital system, said in testimony submitted to the Legislature.

“An interdisciplinary residency program is not a panacea to our recruitment problem. However, it is an important step toward in alleviating our physician and nursing shortages,” Anderson said.

Howard Ainsley, CEO for the HHSC’s East Hawaii region, told lawmakers the need for additional doctors is clear-cut.

Ainsley said according to a recent study, in 2010 Hawaii County had the lowest ratio of licensed physicians compared to the other counties.

While the Big Island has 14% of the state’s population, it has only 10% of the state’s physicians, he said.

When it comes to health insurance, 14.7% of adults in Hawaii County lacked coverage compared to 9.2% for the City and County of Honolulu.

“Support of this program and of family medicine graduate education will generate greater numbers of providers practicing throughout the islands,” Ainsley said. “Investing in training family practice residents in the neighbor islands is expected to yield a meaningful return on investment.”

The program is based on studies which show that 70% of residents – physicians in training – tend to continue practicing medicine near where they were trained.

Similar efforts are underway in Congress.

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