- Physician demand continues to outpace supply, resulting in a new physician shortage projection of up to 120,000 doctors by 2030, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently reported.
The most recent analysis by the Life Science division of IHS Markit on behalf of AAMC uncovered a projected shortfall of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by 2030, with specialists facing the greatest gap during the period.
Projected non-primary care specialist shortfalls ranged from 33,800 to 72,700 physicians by 2030.
While not as severe, primary care will also experience a significant shortage. AAMC estimated the primary care field to be short 14,800 to 49,300 full-time equivalent (FTE) physicians by 2030.
The most recent physician shortage projection across all provider types was significantly higher than last year’s, which was a physician shortage projection of up to 104,000 providers by 2030.
“This year’s analysis reinforces the serious threat posed by a real and significant doctor shortage,” stated Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC President and CEO. “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.”
Researchers anticipated the US population to increase by 11 percent by 2030. While the number of individuals grows, so will the age of the population. Individuals under 18 years old will only increase by three percent, while the population aged 65 years or older will grow by 50 percent and the population aged 75 years or older will grow 69 percent.
Individuals 65 years or older tend to require additional healthcare services compared their younger peers. Researchers estimated that services demanded by individuals 65 years or older will be greater than the growth in demand for pediatric services. As a result, more physicians are needed to meet the demand for healthcare, especially for geriatrics.
Meeting population health management goals also drove the growing physician shortage projection, AAMC reported.
Helping individuals to reduce excess body weight and smoke prevalence, as well as improve control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels, will increase the physician shortage in the long-term. These population health management goals will result in increased longevity and, therefore, greater demand for healthcare.
Thus, physician demand should be 17,300 FTEs higher in 2030 compared to demand levels in the absence of population health management, AAMC reported. Particularly, specialist demand for endocrinologists and geriatrics will grow.
Efforts to reduce healthcare inequity could also influence the physician shortage problem. If individuals residing in non-metropolitan areas and those without insurance used healthcare at the same level as insured individuals in metropolitan areas, the industry would have needed an additional 31,600 doctors in 2016.
The industry would also have needed another 95,100 doctors if all Americans utilized healthcare similar to non-Hispanic white populations with insurance in metropolitan areas.
Additionally, the physician supply side influenced the increased physician shortage projection, AAMC added.
Physicians at or nearing retirement age accounted for a sizable portion of practicing doctors. Those aged 65 years or older represented 13.5 percent of the active workforce, and those between 55 and 64 years old accounted for almost 27.2 percent.
With a considerable portion of the active workforce facing retirement, physician supply will decrease by 2030. The loss from retired physicians may also be worse than projected because of physician burnout pushing doctors to retire sooner. Approximately 42 percent of physicians reported burnout in the 2018 Medscape National Physician Burnout and Depression Report.
Physicians are also working fewer hours, creating supply-side challenges, AAMC continued. Using data from the American Community Survey from 2000 to 2016, researchers observed a trend toward decreasing hours worked among physicians of all ages. Average weekly hours for male and female physicians dropped 0.23 and 0.10 percent, respectively, each year.
Although younger physicians were more likely to work fewer hours per week. In 2015 and 2016, female and male physicians between 30 and 34 years old worked 5 percent fewer hours compared to physicians of the same age in 2000 and 2002.
This trend is likely to continue during the study’s period. Good hours and an appropriate work-life balance are important to younger physicians, according to a new CompHealth survey. About 63 percent of early career physicians cited good hours and balance as the top benefits of their current position, and poor work-life balance was the second most common reason behind compensation for leaving a job.
To improve the projected physician shortage, AAMC called on policymakers to support medical education. Policymakers should support legislation that increases federal backing for an additional 3,000 new residency positions each year for the next five years, the group advised.
They should also back federal incentives and programs such as the National Health Service Corps, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the Conrad 30 Waiver Program, and Title VII/VIII workforce development and diversity pipeline programs. These initiatives aim to recruit a diverse physician workforce and guide physicians to practice in a specialty experiencing a shortage or in underserved communities.
“Medical schools and teaching hospitals are working to ensure that the supply of physicians is sufficient to meet demand and that those physicians are ready to practice in the healthcare system of future,” Kirch explained. “To address the doctor shortage, medical schools have increased class sizes by nearly 30 percent since 2002. Now it’s time for Congress to do its part. Funding for residency training has been frozen since 1997 and without an increase in federal support, there simply won’t be enough doctors to provide the care Americans need.”