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Population Health Success to Exacerbate Doc Shortage

By Debra Shute  
   March 27, 2017

AAMC urges Congress to approve a modest increase in federal support for new doctors.

The United States is facing a projected shortage of between 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030, according to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The estimated shortfall is more severe among non-primary care specialties (33,500–61,800), than primary care physicians (7,300–43,100). Among surgical specialists in particular, current trends indicate the number of newly trained surgeons is almost equal to projected future attrition, resulting in little-to-no rise in supply.

Considering that the U.S. population of senior citizens will grow by 55% during the same timeframe, the predictions are especially troubling, stated Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO.

"As patients get older, they need two to three times as many services, mostly in specialty care, which is where the shortages are particularly severe," he said.

Healthcare Goals Boost Demand
The report modeled hypothetical scenarios in which key goals for the nation's healthcare system were met by 2030. These calculations are not included in the ranges of projections cited above.

Success in leading population health initiatives, such as weight control and smoking cessation, would decrease physician demand in the short term by 1%-2%.

But by 2030, the positive effects would reverse the trend. The need for physicians would grow by about 15,500 FTEs because the need to support an additional 6.3 million living adults more than offsets the reduced demand associated with a healthier population, the authors found.


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Geriatricians would experience the biggest increase in demand, at 8%, according to the analysis, while better diabetes control would reduce demand for endocrinologists by 9%.

Improved access to care, another national goal, would similarly require more physicians to care for patients who would otherwise remain underserved.

A Solution
To alleviate the physician shortage, AAMC supports:

  • Expanding medical school class size
  • Innovating in in care delivery and team-based care
  • Making better use of technology
  • Increasing federal support for an additional 3,000 new residency positions per year over the next five years

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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