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Doctor Shortage Continues to Plague Nation

doctor shortage running in the hallway of hospitalThe doctor shortage across the nation continues to be a detriment to the health care industry, and the deficit will steadily increase over the next 10 years. By 2025, it’s expected that at best the U.S. will be 46,100 physicians short—at worst, the shortage will reach 90,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Why is the U.S. experiencing a doctor shortage?

Baby boomers continue to age

With age comes an increased need for medical care—and a more complicated level of care at that. The increase in elderly patients, many of which will require long-term care, is quickly outweighing the amount of primary and specialty care physicians available—specialty even more so than primary.

Doctors near retirement

Of the 893,851 active physicians in the U.S. in September 2014, one in three were over age 50 and one in four over age 60. As those doctors and others continue to age, they’ll soon be leaving the workforce and re-entering the health care field on the opposite side of the spectrum—as patients. These numbers determine that more than 223,000 physicians could retire in the next five years, but many intend to do so in one to three.

Affordable Care Act creates more patients

During the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period in 2014, 10.3 million new adults joined a health insurance plan, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Many of these previously uninsured patients postponed treatment and now require more advanced—and costly—procedures.

New doctors will not join the workforce quickly enough

The number of medical school graduates across the U.S. has increased 30% over the last decade, according to the AAMC, but the amount of residency opportunities upon graduation has remained stagnant. Despite the demand, without completing a residency these new doctors cannot enter the workforce.

Additional funding is needed to implement new training programs, pay resident salaries and cover the cost of added liability insurance. Medicare currently contributes $9.5 billion towards residency programs annually, but that number has been capped by Congress for the last 16 years and no longer supports today’s required levels.

Increased health care challenges are overwhelming physicians

While Obamacare, the Accountable Care Act, and the IMPACT Act have great intentions for patients and the U.S.’s medical spending, the burden these health care changes place on the limited amount of doctors may be overlooked. Deloitte’s 2013 survey of 20,000 physicians showed that 55% planned on cutting back hours due to the increased demand of health care. This contributes to new insurance clients’ inability to find accessible physicians in their area; when they do find a doctor, they’re left waiting weeks or even months for an appointment.

Overcoming the challenges ahead requires perseverance from industry professionals, additional resources from the government and encouragement for more students to become physicians. With the substantial doctor shortage occurring over the next decade, and medical school typically taking five to ten years to complete, the solution needs to start now.

General Medicine, The Post-Hospitalist Company is always seeking dedicated medical professionals to join the team. We’re proud to have a staff comprised of the most committed, skilled physicians. Our organization joins forces with facilities across the nation to enhance staffing levels, surpass industry standards and improve the quality of care for all. Be a part of the change—join the General Medicine team.

Tom Prose