and safety, as well as the growing diversification of the American population, will not be complete without information on and analysis of the contributions of the various types of health professionals that will be needed. For cost-effectiveness comparisons, for example, different team configurations, continuing education and on-the-job training programs, incentives, and workflow arrangements—all of which affect the efficient use of the health care workforce—must be evaluated. Having these data is a vital first step in the development of accurate models for projecting workforce capacity. Those projections in turn are needed to inform the transformation of nursing practice and education argued for in Chapters 3 and 4, respectively.
Awareness of impending shortages of nurses, primary care physicians, geriatricians, and dentists and in many of the allied health professions has led to a growing consensus among policy makers that strengthening the health care workforce in the United States is an urgent need. This consensus is reflected in the creation of a National Health Workforce Commission (NHWC) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) whose mission is, among other things, to “[develop] and [commission] evaluations of education and training activities to determine whether the demand for health care workers is being met,” and to “[identify] barriers to improved coordination at the Federal, State, and local levels and recommend ways to address such barriers.”1 The ACA also authorizes a National Center for Workforce Analysis, as well as state and regional workforce centers, and provides funding for workforce data collection and studies. The committee believes these initiatives will prove most successful if they analyze workforce needs across the professions—as the Department of Veterans Affairs did in the 1990s (see Chapter 3)—rather than focusing on one profession at a time. Furthermore, national trend data are not granular enough by themselves to permit accurate projections of regional needs.
This chapter addresses key message #4 set forth in Chapter 1: Effective workforce planning and policy making require better data collection and an improved information infrastructure. The chapter first provides a closer look at what is known about the workforce in two areas of urgent need: primary care providers and nurses. It then examines gaps in currently available workforce data. The third section describes the experience of one regional workforce plan in Texas that aims to maintain the right numbers and types of nurses to meet its needs. The final section presents the committee’s conclusions about the need for better data on the health care workforce.