ALBANY The number of active doctors in New York increased 10 percent between 2004 to 2012, ranking New York second in the nation in practicing physicans per capita, a report found.
The report from patient-advocate groups sought to dispute claims by medical organizations in New York that malpractice costs and other regulations have limited health care in the state. Medical groups knocked the report.
The report said that the New York City suburbs have the highest medical malpractice premiums, but also the largest number of doctors.
"This is not to say of course that there are not possible shortages in parts of the state, but it's just to say that overall in New York state, the number of doctors has increased dramatically," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, one of the report's authors.
The report said the number of doctors in the state grew from nearly 82,000 to nearly 90,000 between 2004 and 2012, based on a review by the American Medical Association.
New York ranked second only to Massachusetts in the per capita amount of practicing doctors in the nation, at 345 physicians involved in patient care per 100,000 residents, the report said.
Medical groups panned the report, saying it simplifies a complex problem of New York needing more specialists and of some areas of the state lacking enough physicians.
"To simply look at a whole number of physicians and say, 'We have enough per capita. There's no problem' would be a gross disservice to residents of New York state," said Morris Auster vice-president of legislative and regulatory affairs at the Medical Society of the State of New York.
"We are facing shortages in a number of different specialties all across the state," he continued.
A report in August 2013 by the SUNY Center for Health Workforce Studies in Albany said that more than three million New Yorkers lack access to primary care services. In New York, 28 percent of physicians provide primary care, compared with 32 percent nationally, the report said.
The state HealthCare Association said in a survey of members last year that 61 percent of respondents indicated that there are times when their emergency room were not covered by certain specialties. Outside the Hudson Valley, 71 percent said they faced that problem.
The association said that doctor shortage is expected to worsen because of more health-care enrollees under the federal Affordable Care Act, which this year led to 1 million uninsured New Yorkers getting coverage.
"The results confirm the serious nature of the physician shortage, particularly for primary care," the Healthcare Association report said.
The patient-advocates' report showed that 19 of New York's 62 counties had a decline in the number of doctors over the eight years, mainly rural, upstate counties. The largest decrease was 31 percent in Delaware County, where the number of doctors dropped from 58 to 40, the report said.
The report recognizes the need for more doctors in rural areas, said Arthur Levin, the executive director of the Center for Medical Consumers, a New York City-based group.
But he disputed that the reason is medical malpractice costs. The report said declining populations and a high rate of uninsured residents has discouraged doctors from wanting to practice there.
"The medical establishment tries to deal with malpractice not by reducing the incidences, but by reducing the ability of injured patients to have recovery and theoretically reduce malpractice premiums. We think that's the wrong approach," Levin charged.
In Broome County, the number of doctors was unchanged at 645, while it increased slightly in Chemung County, up from 261 to 269. The number of doctors in Tompkins County, home to Cornell University, rose 17 percent – from 265 to 310.
Monroe County had an 11 percent increase in the number of doctors, and it was up 5 percent in Erie County.
In the Hudson Valley, the number of doctors increased 16 percent in Dutchess County and 3 percent in both Westchester and Putnam counties.
The report found that New York is among the top five states for the number of physicians per capita practicing in the specialties of OB/GYN and general surgery.