- Warnings of a worsening physician shortage continue, with new analysis suggesting the shortfall could reach 121,300 physicians by 2030, according to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The estimate is higher than last year’s projected high of 105,000 for the same period.
- 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.
- Nonprimary care specialties face even bigger shortfalls — as high as 72,700, including 30,500 surgeons. The supply of surgeons is expected to slow or even decline.
Fueling the physician shortage is a growing and aging population. According to the report, the U.S. population is expected to grow by nearly 11% to 359 million in 2030, while the 65 and over population will increase by 50%. That means more demand for medical services as older Americans seek treatment for age-related health conditions.
The report also looks at the impact of population health goals such as lowering blood pressure and smoking cessation on the physician shortage. While these may reduce demand in the near-term as populations improve in health, the increased longevity associated with these goals will intensify demand in the long term, it says.
Other factors affecting the shortage include an aging workforce — more than one-third of practicing physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade and looking to retire — and the trend toward shorter workdays. If the trend continues, the number of FTE physicians will drop by 32,500 by 2030, according to the report.
The survey echoes other recent studies. In an American Medical Association survey, one in five doctors said they plan to reduce their clinical work time in the next year.
Some hospitals are already experiencing a shortage of doctors. Last October, the Denver VA Medical Center said it was delaying dozens of surgeries due to a shortfall of anesthesiologists. The facility is part of the Eastern Colorado Health Care System, which is reported to have some of the longest wait times in the country.
Still, not everyone is convinced that the physician shortage is a runaway train. “Making better use of the workforce we have through innovations in service delivery and modifications in scope of practice laws/regulations can help increase access, improve quality and constrain the growth in healthcare costs,” Edward Salsberg, director of health workforce studies at George Washington University’s Health Workforce Institute, told Healthcare Dive recently. He believes shifting more care to NPs and PAs can help meet future demand.
AAMC acknowledges this, but worries those mid-level practitioners may not be able to sustain their current high growth rate. The group also suggests the need look at how new payment models and technologies that enable virtual care will affect future demand for healthcare services.