Consumer healthcare site ranks US metro areas by physician access; Boston is No. 1

Why are there so few doctors in Los Angeles?

Pharma marketers are accustomed to worrying about “white space” coverage—getting to physicians who aren’t assigned a sales rep, based on geography; now they need to worry about what might be called “medical white space”—geographies with limited access to physicians themselves. It’s not a new phenomenon, but with the expansion of healthcare coverage coming with the Affordable Care Act, and with a growing emphasis by pharma on connecting to patients, the paucity of physicians will be a new obstacle.

Vitals (Lyndhurst, NJ), operators of the Vitals.com website that links consumers to healthcare practitioners (HCPs), says that its Vitals Index, a proprietary database, shows that physician access ranges from 82.79 consumers/physician, in Boston, to 642.34 in Arlington, TX. The survey, across the 50 major metropolitan areas in the US, finds the greatest per capita concentration, after Boston, in Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Cleveland; the five worst are San Jose, CA, Virginia Beach, VA, Los Angeles, El Paso and Arlington.

These disparities are a concern, of course, for healthcare policymakers and public health generally, but for the pharma industry, they will call for greater sophistication in connecting with other parts of the healthcare system besides physicians. “Nurse practitioners and physician associates will take on a more important role in diagnosing and treating patients,” suggests Mitch Rothschild, Vitals CEO. “Retail clinics and urgent care facilities will become the norm for routine care. Even medical tourism is likely to see a boon as patients plan vacations around treatments abroad, rather than wait for openings in a surgeon’s tight schedule.”

The Vitals portal (which accepts pharma industry advertising itself) is accessed by 150 million US consumers annually, says the company. Visitors can review information on specific disease states, and select doctors by location, specialty and insurance acceptance.