Worse than ever: Physician shortage could hit 120K by 2030

Estimates of a projected physician shortage just got worse.

The country could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, according to a new report (PDF) from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

That’s an increase from last year, when the AAMC projected a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors by 2030.

New research paints an even more dire picture, with physician shortages in both primary and specialty care. The new report, which updates estimates from 2015, 2016 and 2017, shows a shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 doctors by the end of the next decade.

RELATED: Physician shortage could hit 100K by 2030

It’s the fourth year in a row that AAMC has projected physician demand will continue to grow faster than the supply.

“This year’s analysis reinforces the serious threat posed by a real and significant doctor shortage,” AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., said in announcement. “With the additional demand from a population that will not only continue to grow but also age considerably over the next 12 years, we must start training more doctors now to meet the needs of our patients in the future.”

RELATED: New doctor recruiting on the verge of a 'feeding frenzy'

The study considered a wide range of healthcare and policy scenarios that could impact a physician shortage, such as payment and delivery reform, increased use of advanced practice nurses and physician assistants, and delays in physician retirements.

Here are some additional findings from the report:

  • By 2030, the study estimates a shortfall of between 14,800 and 49,300 primary care physicians. There will be an even greater shortfall of specialists, projected at between 33,800 and 72,700 physicians.
  • Much of the increased demand comes from a growing, aging population, with those over age 65 increasing by 50% by 2030. Additionally, one-third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade. When these physicians decide to retire could have the greatest impact on supply, the report said.

RELATED: It’s not just primary care doctors that are in short supply, specialists are too

As it has in the past, the AAMC called for a multipronged solution including passing legislation that would increase federal support for an additional 3,000 new residency positions each year over the next five years. Funding for residency training has been frozen since 1997 and without an increase in federal support, there won’t be enough doctors to provide the care Americans need, Kirch said.

In rural areas in Colorado, Oklahoma and North Carolina, doctors, their assistants and patients are already feeling the effects of a shortage of healthcare providers. Doctors are retiring—or dying—and there’s no one to take their place.

Numerous states feeling the impact of the physician shortage have come up with strategies, including starting new branches of medical schools.