Doctor, Doctor! We’re used to seeing them on-demand. But if projections prove true, Americans may be forced to wait — as long as months — to get an appointment in the future. The warning is clear: a major doctor shortage is looming.
This shortage has been brewing for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic only made it worse. More than half of currently-employed physicians admit to suffering from burnout. The American Medical Association (AMA) recently presented findings of a survey which revealed that 24 percent of U.S. doctors are moderately or more likely to leave their practice in the next two years.
Additionally, many doctors are inching toward retirement. Within 10 years, two in five working doctors will be 65 years or older. At the same time, the number of retirees who require more in-depth medical care will increase. Medical schools are amping up admissions to secure doctors in the future, but it is not a quick fix.
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a shortage between 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by the year 2034. Severe shortages are already being experienced by patients in many states, including Florida, which is home to a large population of senior citizens.
Projections show extreme shortages within certain practice areas. Some shortages are based on low insurance reimbursement, while others are linked to patient growth exceeding the number of specialists.
The biggest shortages are expected to be in family medicine, pediatrics, and geriatric medicine. The AAMC expects those fields to be down between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians by 2034.
Specialties including anesthesiology, neurology, emergency medicine, and addiction are expected to see drops up to 35,600 physicians.
As for surgical specialties? Ob-Gyn, orthopedics, and general surgeons will also be harder to find. Heart specialists, both surgical and non-invasive, will experience a moderate shortage.
Possibly the hardest hit fields are the non-primary care specialists, which are typically fewer in numbers in any given community. These include dermatologists, oncologists, transplant doctors, allergists, and rheumatologists. The shortage may be as high as 77,100 physicians.
The medical community is bracing for these shortages and looking for ways to manage gaps in coverage. Key among them is telemedicine, which connects available doctors anywhere in the country with patients via the internet. Tele-specialists are also used within hospital settings to augment limited staff.
Another element of care is adding more advanced nurse practitioners to the work force who can handle fundamental duties commonly performed by a medical doctor.
From a patient perspective, establishing your family with a primary care doctor will keep you in the pipeline — for both regular appointments, as well as timely referrals to specialists in the future.