The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has provided some latest numbers, which bring the nation once again on the brink of a crisis. According to those numbers, the nation could witness a physician shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 doctors by the end of 2034. Adding to the woes, the shortfall includes both the primary and specialty care sector. With more and more older physicians leaving the healthcare system, older Americans are finding themselves in requirement of more care.
A Deeper Look into the Crisis
The shortage of physicians from the primary care sector could range anywhere between 17,800 to 48,000 from 2019 to 2034. Apart from that, specialty care might witness a shortage of 21,000 to 77,100 non-primary care physicians by the end of the aforementioned period.
The above projections were released by the AAMC last Friday and mean nothing but serious trouble for the healthcare system of the country, which is still recovering itself from the devastating effect of the ongoing pandemic.
According to them, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped highlight several disparities in the healthcare system and access to healthcare services. Moreover, it has also exposed most of the vulnerabilities in the health system. Apart from that, the pandemic has also pointed out the importance of physicians and other healthcare providers, and the vital role they play in ensuring the best health infrastructure for the nation. All these make it a necessity to ensure the nation has enough physicians to meet the needs of the healthcare system.
The Reason Behind the Crisis
The growth of older population groups has been on a steady rise for the past couple of years. It is responsible for the increase in demand for healthcare despite the shortage in supply. A recent projection shows that the population of elderly people (aged 65 years or above) might increase by almost 42.4 percent during 2019 and 2034, which is almost 4 times the growth of the general population (around 10.6 percent).
Needless to say, the AAMC report states that the demand for specialists who treat the elderly and the conditions prevalent in this age group will increase accordingly. However, at the same time, the nation will see a crisis amongst such specialists as most of them close the gap towards the retirement age. Among the active physicians in the country, almost three of every five physicians will be 65 years old by 2034.
The report concludes that prompt dealing with the physician shortage is the only way to overcome the barriers to access to care and is the key to deliver quality healthcare for people of all ages.
A recently introduced legislation titled the Resident Physician Shortage Regulation Act of 2021 allows to increase the federally supported medical residency positions by 2,000 per year for the upcoming seven years. AAMC suggests that it is high time to start addressing the physician shortage. The healthcare system can start educating and training enough physicians to meet the nation’s needs. The country needs to make a long-term investment in the healthcare workforce without any delay. It will help ensure improved access to care, address the ongoing and any future crisis related to public health care, and diversify the physician workforce.