Counties With Greatest COVID-19 Caseloads Have Few or No Infectious Diseases Physicians
As the numbers of physicians specializing in infectious diseases continues to fall short of need, nearly two-thirds of Americans live in areas with little or no access to an infectious diseases specialist, according to a study published online today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the nation, 80% of counties that are home to the highest numbers of people diagnosed with the virus have below-average access to infectious diseases physicians – or none at all, the authors of the study found.
Tracking the numbers of infectious diseases physicians through Medicare payment data, the authors found that of the 3,142 counties in the United States, 2,499 – nearly 80% of counties across the nation -- do not have a single infectious diseases specializing physician.
The findings come, the authors note, at a time that has seen slots for infectious diseases training go unfilled over the previous decade, as new physicians pursued specialties generating higher compensation. The expansion of telehealth, or virtual doctor visits, can expand the reach of the already stretched workforce, but will need to be supported by health coverage providers, the authors write.
In the meantime, the authors, led by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, HIV Medicine Association Board member, conclude, “The deficits in the [infectious diseases] workforce today have left us poorly prepared for the unprecedented demand ahead.” Other authors include IDSA Board member Dr. Dan McQuillen.