In its sixth annual report, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicted a shortage of between 54,100 to 139,000 physicians in primary and specialty care in the U.S. healthcare system by the year 2033.
The physician shortage is undoubtedly an unfortunate reality. A doctor’s training can take up to fifteen years to complete which makes this situation time-sensitive. It is crucial to implement solutions right away to minimize the U.S. physician shortage so that by 2033, we create an efficient healthcare system thriving with adequate healthcare facilities.
This article has everything you need to know about the physician shortage in America, including the factors that have caused it.
Factors affecting the physicians’ shortage
A shortage of doctors is a pressing challenge in an already inaccessible healthcare system. Easy access to basic healthcare helps in getting an early diagnosis, prompt treatment, and higher life expectancy. Let’s take a look at what caused the physician shortage in America.
Demographics trend leaning towards seniors
One of the primary factors that lead to a shortage of doctors is the demographics revolving around the population, growth, and aging of the patients. The projected growth in the population of the U.S. of the under-18 age group will increase by 3.9%. Meanwhile, the population aged 65 and over is estimated to rise by 45.1% by 2033.
Senior citizens who are currently the largest population group in the U.S., are more prone to chronic diseases than the younger population. Due to this, the demand for physicians’ specialties is more inclined towards them. Specialties like family medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, neurology, and cardiology are already facing physician shortages.
Elevated physician requirements
The fact that the majority of physicians are close to the retirement age is another contributing factor to the doctors’ shortage. Two out of five physicians will be sixty-five or above by 2033, which highlights the upcoming U.S. physician shortage.
The decline in the supply of doctors with the increase in medical demands results in an imbalance in the healthcare sector. America has been ranked at the bottom among eleven other high-income countries for the last seven consecutive reports of the Commonwealth Funds on global health ranking.
Medical schooling and residency limitations
The number of physicians that qualify to practice medicine largely depends on medical school enrollment and residency program slots. The high amount of limitations placed in both of these areas are contributors to physician shortages.
The medical school acceptance rates are unbelievably low. A meritorious medical school like Harvard has an acceptance rate of 3.8% of the total applicants. Moreover, the cap of residency slots imposed federally in 1997, has not been lifted since. As a result, the U.S. physician shortage increases because the average number of graduating medical students and residents per annum is much less than the needs of the country.
Increased physician burnout
With the simultaneous elevation in patient demand and physician shortages, healthcare organizations have to put elaborate efforts into recruiting and retaining the much-needed doctors. Physicians actively avoid working at medical facilities with a high level of unmanageable daily responsibilities.
Because of the shortage of doctors, the hospitals are widely understaffed, which leads to increased physical burnout and coherent overload. The burnout patterns suggest that the physicians will preferably accelerate rather than delay their retirements.
Solutions to tackle physician shortage
It is estimated that the shortage of doctors in primary care will rest between the figures 21,400 and 55,200. And in secondary care, the number of physician shortages lies between 33,700 and 86,700. These projections in the report of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) highlight the immensity of the problem.
Provided below are the three major solutions to tackle this issue:
Lifting unnecessary barriers in medical licensing
There is no doubt that the process of licensing medical students is complex. To get a physician’s license, an individual must graduate from a school credentialed by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. As these schools enroll only a tiny fraction of students as compared to the country’s demand, the physician shortage in the U.S is inevitable.
It is essential to develop a system that assesses physicians based on their competency by taking a skill-based examination, rather than evaluating them based on the school they graduated from. It will create a standardized approach for every doctor to maintain a well-assessed and efficient environment to practice healthcare in. With an increased number of licensed students, the U.S. physician shortage will drop to a significant rate, as more provider services will be made available in the country.
Feasibility for international medical practitioners
International medical practitioners make up a quarter of the total physician workforce in the U.S., delivering work as good as or sometimes even better than the U.S trained doctors. Unfortunately, the current procedure for recruiting foreign students is inconvenient. International doctors have to repeat the residency and fellowship programs in the U.S.A, even though they have already completed those programs in their homeland. In such unfavorable situations, many quality physicians opt not to practice in the U.S.
The provision of better opportunities to these international doctors will aid in tackling the physician shortage in the US especially in the primary care sector of the rural and low-income areas. If the primary doctor shortage in such rural places is lifted, it can save the lives of more than 7000 patients per year!
Use of technological advances in healthcare
The use of technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, business intelligence, telemedicine, physiological sensors, and countless others is a solution to reduce the physician shortage. The excess workload of doctors will reduce as the reliance on technology for basic diagnosis and procedures increases.
Using telemedicine is a great way to tackle the shortage of doctors in the rural areas, the regions where the shortfall is highest. The development of telemedicine booths will help qualified doctors to treat patients, especially in areas without their physical presence. This is because they are well-equipped with professional medical instruments, screening equipment, and a video conference system for communication. Under the guidance of a doctor, the patients can self-administer, and treatment is provided to them accordingly.
In this way, if the shortage of doctors in rural areas is tackled, it will help to maintain a balance between the shortfall and provider demand.
The need to intercept the influx of physician shortage is dire. Adequate funding from the public and private sectors is required, along with adopting methodical approaches that will support current physicians and specialists. With every passing second, we get closer to a further influx in physician shortage as the population and its healthcare demands continuously increase. The magnitude of the projected shortfalls cannot be tackled with a single solution. For this, the state needs to establish a complete set of reforms to ensure an efficient healthcare system for the upcoming generations of the future.