Shortage of Physician Specialists in America Focus of New White Paper

Shortage of Physician Specialists in America Focus of New White PaperThe doctor shortage in America has been one of the healthcare industry’s most pressing issues in recent years. Our groundbreaking 2017 Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends, for example, found that the remarkable recent growth in locums staffing — 94% of surveyed facilities reported utilizing locum workers in 2016 — is due in no small part to this shortage of physicians.

The shortage has been predicted by the American Medical Association and other authorities as far back as 2012. As such, some areas have been working to correct the shortage before it escalates to crisis levels. States as diverse and distant as Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin have all moved to open new medical training programs in the past couple of years, for example.

But these efforts can do little to address the doctor shortage while a 1990s-era Congressional cap on federal funding for residency positions remains in place. In the spring of 2017, a bipartisan team of U.S. Senators and Representatives introduced a pair of bills to increase the number of Medicare-supported hospital residency slots by 15,000. Yet within a political environment that’s particularly bogged down in healthcare issues, the bill’s chances of success are uncertain at best.

Primary care is often the focus of reports of the physician shortage in the U.S. — and with good reason. By the year 2030, America’s shortage of primary care physicians could reach a deficit of 43,100, according to a report commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Yet the doctor shortage in America will soon encompass far more than primary care practitioners. In a new white paper from Staff Care, our thought leaders project that the shortage is poised to include many more medical specialties beyond family, internal and pediatric medicine.

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Causes of, Solutions to Impending Shortage of Physician Specialists


“The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in 2017 projected a deficit of up to 104,900 physicians in the U.S. by 2030,” write the white paper authors. “While this projection includes a deficit of up to 43,100 primary care physicians, it should be noted the AAMC projects an even larger deficit of 61,800 specialist physicians.”

A big reason for this projected shortage is the nation’s aging population. Seniors “represent only 14% of the population, but generate 34% of inpatient services and 37.4% of diagnostic treatments and tests,” the white paper authors point out. “The rapid growth of the senior population will accelerate the need for specialists to take care of ailing or failing bones, organ systems and psyches.”

The number of insured Americans is also on the rise, another factor in the projected shortage. This number also includes millions of patients who are the survivors of cancer, heart disease, strokes and other conditions that require “the continued attention of oncologists and other specialists,” the authors note.

And, unlike the shortage of primary care doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are less able to fill in for the shortage in other medical specialties, which require specialists “to perform the most complex types of procedures and care for complicated organ and system maladies beyond the training of other types of clinicians or the capabilities of unaided technology.”

Perhaps the most serious driver of the impending shortage, though, is the “aging of the physician workforce” itself, which, “is particularly pronounced” in some specialties, the authors note. In psychiatry, non-invasive cardiology, and orthopedic surgery, more than 50 percent of practicing doctors are 55 or older. In pulmonology, the figure is almost 75%.

The white paper authors go on to explore in greater detail the projected shortages in other medical specialties, including ob/gyn, neurology and dermatology. They also discuss the efficiency of one increasingly popular method of counteracting this shortage of physician specialists — namely, locum tenens staffing.

Of Staff Care’s requested locum tenens work days in 2016, 60% were for “behavioral health, surgical, diagnostic and other medical specialists,” they write, while noting that physician specialists similarly made up about 60% of surveyed doctors that same year.

Locum tenens specialists are increasingly “being used to fill the gaps many healthcare facilities are experiencing on their medical staffs,” they note.

If you’d like a complimentary copy of this Staff Care white paper, you can download it here. And if you’re interested in learning how to leverage locum tenens workers to help offset the effects of the physician shortage, we encourage you to contact us here, or submit a staffing request using this form.

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