According to new data by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to health care services and exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system,” said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD. “The pandemic also has underscored the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America’s needs.”
“Physicians and other health professionals dedicate their careers to keeping people healthy and caring for us when we are sick. During the past year, these individuals and their families have made enormous personal sacrifices as they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and we owe them an immense amount of gratitude,” Skorton added.
In his testimony during a recent congressional hearing on addressing the dire health care workforce shortage, Skorton noted that the issue of increasing clinician burnout, which has been intensified by the pandemic, could cause doctors and other health workers to cut back their hours or accelerate their plans for retirement.
Other key findings from the report include:
- Demographics — specifically, population growth and aging — continue to be the primary driver of increasing demand from 2019 to 2034. During this time, the U.S. population is projected to grow by 10.6%, from about 328 million to 363 million, with a projected 42.4% increase in those aged 65 and above. Therefore, demand for physician specialties that predominantly care for older Americans will continue to increase.
- A large portion of the physician workforce is nearing the traditional retirement age.
- If marginalized minority populations, people living in rural communities, and people without health insurance had the same health care use patterns as populations with fewer barriers to access, up to an additional 180,400 physicians would be needed now.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, physician shortages were felt by patients across the country. In 2019, the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration estimated that an additional 13,758 primary care physicians and 6,100 psychiatrists would have been needed to remove Health Professional Shortage Area designations for areas with primary care and mental health shortages. According to public opinion research conducted by the AAMC in 2019, 35% of survey respondents said they or someone they knew had trouble finding a doctor in the past year or two.
At the end of 2020, Congress took an important step to address the physician shortage by adding 1,000 new Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) positions—200 per year for 5 years—targeted at underserved rural and urban communities and other teaching hospitals nationwide, ending a nearly 25-year freeze on Medicare support for GME. Bipartisan legislation recently introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021, would build upon this historic investment and help expand the physician workforce by adding 2,000 federally-supported medical residency positions annually for seven years.
“Addressing the physician shortage requires a multi-pronged solution that starts with ensuring that our nation educates and trains enough physicians to meet America’s needs, and includes improving access to care, diversifying the physician workforce, and ensuring our nation is prepared to address current and future public health crises,” Skorton said. “Now more than ever, the nation must make a long-term investment in the health care workforce. The time to act is now.”
Edited by Maryssa Gordon, Senior Editor, Price of Business Digital Network