Background: Rural health care workforce forecasting has not included adjustments for predictable changes in practice patterns, such as the introduction of practice guidelines.
Purpose: To estimate the impact of a practice guideline for a single health condition on the needs of a rural health professional workforce.
Methods: The current care of a cohort of rural Medicare recipients with diabetes mellitus was compared with the care recommended by a diabetes practice guideline. The additional tests and visits that were needed to comply with the guideline were translated into additional hours of physician services and total physician full-time equivalents.
Results: The implementation of a practice guideline for Medicare recipients with diabetes in rural Minnesota would require over 30,000 additional hours of primary care physician services and over 5,000 additional hours of eye care professionals' time per year. This additional need represents a 1.3% to 2.4% increase in the number of primary care physicians and a 1.0% to 6.6% increase in the number of eye-care clinicians in a state in which the rural medical provider to population ratios already meet some recommended workforce projections.
Conclusions: The implementation of practice guidelines could result in an increased need for rural health care physicians or other providers. That increase, caused by guideline implementation, should be accounted for in future rural health care workforce predictions.