U.S. doc shortage could hit 90,000 in 10 years

Multi-prong approach necesary to stop shortfall of primary care physicians, specialists, AAMC reports
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Despite claims by healthcare economists that the medical community has exaggerated the scope of the potential doctor shortage, a leading association that represents medical schools and teaching hospitals reports that the country will be short as many as 90,000 physicians by 2025.

"The doctor shortage is real--it's significant--and it's particularly serious for the kind of medical care that our aging population is going to need," said Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in an announcement about the study findings.

The study, which the AAMC says is the first comprehensive national analysis that takes into account both demographics and recent changes to care delivery and payment methods, projects the U.S. will face a shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians in the next 10 years.

The study estimates that, within the overall projections, the country will need between 12,000 and 31,000 primary care doctors and 26,000 to 63,000 non-primary care physicians, particularly surgical specialists.

Other key findings:

  • Demand for physicians is growing faster than supply, according to the different scenarios presented in the study. Total physician demand will likely grow by 86,700 to 133,200, with population growth and aging accounting for 14 percent of growth. By comparison, physician supply will likely increase by 66,700 if labor force participation patterns remain unchanged, with a range of 33,700 to 94,600, reflecting uncertainty regarding future retirement and hours worked patterns.
  • Expanded medical coverage achieved under the Affordable Care Act, once fully implemented, will likely increase demand by about 16,000 to 17,000 physicians over the increased demand resulting from changing demographics.
  • A rapid growth in the number of advanced practice nurses (APRN) and the expanded role they play in patient care delivery accounts for the lower ranges of the projected shortfalls. However, even in these scenarios, physician shortages will persist, the report concludes. The healthcare industry could absorb 114,900 additional APRNs into the system to expand the level of care currently provided to patients and help offset the doctor shortage. The same holds true of the number of physician assistants (PA) projected to grow in the next 10 years. "While this rapid growth in supply of APRNs and PAs could help reduce the projected magnitude of the physician shortage, the extent to which some specialties (e.g., surgery specialties) can continue to absorb more APRNs and PAs given limited physician supply growth is unclear," the report finds.

"Because training a doctor takes between five and 10 years, we must act now, in 2015, if we are going to avoid serious physician shortages in 2025," Kirch said in the announcement.

The AAMC recommends a multi-pronged approach to address the shortage, including innovative ways to make healthcare delivery more efficient and an increase in federal support for graduate medical education to train at least 3,000 more doctors a year. The federal government currently provides $14 billion each year to support hospitals that provide graduate medical education. The cost for increasing that support to train the 3,000 additional doctors is approximately $1 billion a year, the Washington Post reports.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- read the report (.pdf)
- check out the Washington Post article

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