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Hospital CEOs Question Whether There are Enough Clinicians if Reform Passes

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, November 17, 2009

A majority of hospital chief executive officers say they don't have enough physicians, nurses or allied health professionals to handle increased demand if health reform improves access, according to a survey released Monday by AMN Healthcare, a large provider of clinical staffing services.

The survey, completed by 285 hospital executives, found that although there are more applicants for jobs today because of the recession, significant gaps remain. And what's worse, many of the executives believe the situation will not improve.

"While the short-term economic environment may have temporarily eased the ability to recruit and retain clinical staff, the long-term dynamics of an aging population will drive the need for thousands of additional healthcare professionals," said Susan Nowakowski, president of AMN Healthcare.

"Any plan to expand access to care would intensify an already anticipated critical shortage of physicians. Healthcare reform should include robust efforts to train more doctors, nurses, and other clinicians," she said.

Among the survey's highlights:

  • Ninety-five percent of CEOs believe there is a shortage of physicians, 91% say there's a shortage of nurses, 79% say there is a shortage of allied health professionals, and 86% point to a shortage of pharmacists.

  • Ninety-five percent of CEOs said the physician shortage has worsened in the last six months or has not improved. Meanwhile, 27% perceived the supply of nurses has improved in the last six months.

  • Hospital CEOs continue to report clinical staff vacancies, reporting an 11% gap for physicians, 6% for nurses, 5% for allied professionals, and 5% for pharmacists.

  • Forty-six percent of CEOs said access to care in their service areas has been compromised by a physician shortage, 8% said access has been compromised by a nursing shortage, and 10% said it's been hurt by a lack of allied health professionals. Three percent said access has suffered because of a shortage of pharmacists.

  • Of the CEOs who responded to the survey, 81% rated reimbursement as an important strategy priority, 65% rated quality of care as important, and 50% said margin compression as the top priority.

Asked if their service areas had enough clinicians to handle increased demand if more patients have a source of healthcare payment, 21% said their regions had enough physicians, 33% said they had enough nurses, and 31% said they had enough pharmacists.

The AMN survey concluded that shortages persist though some hospital CEOs said the economic downturn has alleviated some of the difficulty of recruiting clinicians.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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