'Alarming' Physician Shortages Lie Ahead

Joe Cantlupe, November 14, 2013

While the reasons for the projected doctor shortage are clear—population health issues, shrinking physician reimbursements, workforce issues, and residency training insufficiencies—the path toward a solution is not.

Perhaps you've seen reports saying that physician shortages may not be as bad as once feared. Maybe you believe that a greater push toward using mid-level providers is reason for hope among healthcare execs. It's no surprise that scope of practice laws are being challenged in several states.

Don't buy it, says Atul Grover, MD, PhD, chief public policy officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, based in Washington D.C.

"We can live in a make-believe world or live in the world we are in. It's going to be a lot tougher to fill those gaps," Grover says of potential physician shortages. "There's cultural issues, there's reimbursement issues…. We haven't trained enough doctors… There's definitely a shortage."

Current utilization patterns suggests that by 2020 there will be a national shortage of 91,500 physicians – 45,400 primary care physicians and 46,100 subspecialists. Recent data suggest that advances in care, such as a 50% reduction in mortality for cardiovascular disease, will only expand the need for more physicians, Grover says in an article in this month's Health Affairs. Lidia M. Niecko-Najjum, a senior research and policy analyst at the AAMC, co-authored.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter

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