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DOH Officials Flub Basic Question

Each year, the Florida Department of Health is required to publish an update on the physician workforce, to help the Legislature in strategic planning. That report, which came out this month, said there are 43,406 in active practice.

And yet, two officials who appeared before a House panel examining the health care workforce on Wednesday were stumped when members asked how many physicians the state has. After members asked the questions half a dozen times, the DOH officials said they'd have to get back to the committee, which next meets in January.

Asthe Florida Current reports, the matter created a testy exchange at the hearing before the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation. The cross-examination went on for about 20 minutes.

The two DOH officials who couldn't come up with an answer -- even though it pops right up if you search "doctors" on the agency's website -- were Dr. Alma Littles of the DOH Physician Advisory Council and Debbie Reich of the Bureau of Community Health Assessment.

The physician workforce report, based on an annual survey, found that more than 62,300 physicians live in the state, but only about 70 percent of them are in active practice. Nearly two-thirds are age 50 or older, a concern as the population ages and health-care needs grow. That is why House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, appointed the select committee.

Another concern the report illustrates is that only about one-third of physicians in active practice in Florida are engaged in primary care. Most are specialists, a result of historic trends that have seen insurers and government pay them more.

DOH draws the physician data from physician applications for license renewal, which occurs every other year and is staggered. Thus the DOH report reflects license renewals in 2012 and 2013.

One-year-old data on a Kaiser Family Foundation website are somewhat different. They show  46,830 Florida physicians as of November 2012, almost half of whom were described as engaged in primary care. The KFF data are from a private company, Redi-Data Inc. 

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.