Kern County struggles to attract and retain medical professionals, especially doctors and specialists. This we've known for some time. What we don't yet know is how to solve this problem. At a forum in Bakersfield on Tuesday night, a panel of health care experts discussed several possible solutions to the problem, but clearly no silver scalpel exists to our doctor shortage. Still, it's essential we continue this conversation and consistently try new ways to overcome this obstacle.

A 2009 study found that Kern County has about 45 active primary care doctors per 100,000 population. That's far short of the 60 to 80 primary care doctors per 100,000 residents considered an "adequate supply" by medical groups. The reasons for the shortage are complex. They include everything from the high cost of medical school, which pushes many would-be doctors toward the most lucrative specialties -- often in wealthier cities and communities -- to a community's unique appeal and overall quality of life. Kern's poor air quality and lack of cultural amenities doesn't help when it's competing against other communities to lure doctors.

New technology can help bridge the doctor gap, connecting patients in one location with specialists and primary care doctors at remote locations. These technologies could play a critical role in addressing Kern's doctor shortage, but they have gained little traction here so far.

These are the varied factors at play in our local doctor shortage, and they'll be compounded by health care reform. If we're ever to find a way to attract more doctors, or provide more care with fewer doctors, it's essential that our community, especially including Cal State Bakersfield and Kern Medical Center, keep brainstorming ideas. The conversation that started this week must continue.