First Look: Survey Says RI Lacks Primary Care, Mental Health Providers

Nov 17, 2015

Rhode Island may not have enough primary care doctors to meet the need. That’s one conclusion from a major survey of the state’s health care inventory. Another conclusion: mental health resources are lacking.   

A map shows the distribution of primary care practices throughout Rhode Island, along with the population density in each area.
Credit RI Dept. of Health

Rhode Island’s Department of Health surveyed just about every kind of health care provider and facility you can think of to find out how they’re operating and who they’re serving. They undertook this survey as a result of legislation passed last year requiring the inventory and a statewide health plan.

In a nutshell: we don’t have as many primary care doctors as some have estimated. It turns out Rhode Island has about 600, between about 200 - 400 less than previous estimates. Also, a big percentage of primary care practices are not accepting new patients, and some are not accepting new patients with Medicaid. That could hamper efforts to diagnose and manage chronic diseases among the lowest income Rhode Islanders.

What’s more, he survey found less than half of behavioral health clinics and psychiatrists offer outpatient medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. That's significant because of the state's opioid addiction and overdose death epidemic. Rhode Island's new strategic plan to prevent overdose deaths calls for more doctors to be trained and ready to offer medication assisted treatments like buprenorphine. Another such treatment, methadone, is much more easily accessible right now in Rhode Island. 

What behavioral health clinics offer - note that only 14% offer outpatient suboxone (medication for opioid addiction) treatment.
Credit RI Dept. of Health