Physician Shortage Predicted to Grow Over Next Decade

Physicians are experiencing more patients than they can handle, double bookings of appointment times and longer days than when they first began their careers due to the physician shortage. 

New research suggests that the physician shortage could continue to grow over the next decade. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, the shortage could reach 121,300 physicians by 2030. Additionally, the primary care shortage is expected to be between 14,800 and 49,000, depending on the supply of advanced practice nurses and physician assistants who are needed to help fill the gap. Non-primary care specialties face even bigger shortfalls, possibly as high as 72,700, which includes 30,500 surgeons.

According to AAMC's research, "Major drivers of these projected trends continue to be an aging population that requires increasingly complex care with an aging physician workforce. In the surgical specialties, a largely stagnant projected supply also contributes to projected shortages. At the same time, during this period, the U.S. population is projected to grow by close to 11 percent, from about 324 million to 359 million. While the population under age 18 is projected to grow by only 3 percent, the population 65 and older is projected to grow by 50 percent."

“Because seniors have much higher per capita consumption of healthcare than younger populations, the percentage growth in demand for services used by seniors is projected to be much higher than the percentage growth in demand for pediatric services,” the study summary states.

The demand for physicians will be 17,300 full-time equivalents in 2030 relative to demand levels if these goals are not achieved, with estimates suggesting that prevention efforts will likely reduce demand for some specialties, such as endocrinology, but demand for other specialties, such as geriatric medicine, will grow. 

“If underserved populations had care utilization patterns similar to populations with fewer access barriers, demand for physicians could rise substantially,” the researchers note, “The health of the nation would benefit from more equitable access to care.”

The report continues, “The healthcare utilization equity scenario models the implications for physician demand if currently underserved populations utilized healthcare at rates similar to those of populations facing fewer sociodemographic, economic, and geographic barriers to care.”

The study points out that retirement of physicians is likely to have the greatest impact on the point of care for patients, as more than one-third of all currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade. Physicians between ages 65 and older account for 13.5 percent of the active workforce, and those between ages 55 and 64 make up nearly 27.2 percent of the active workforce. If this trend continues, by 2030 there will be 32,500 fewer full-time equivalent physicians in the national supply.

In summary, as the population ages there will be far fewer physicians to treat them, which means that it might end up being a very lucrative time to be a provider of care.

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Scott Rupp


Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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