Merritt Hawkins: 6 insights about the emerging physician shortage

While healthcare policy experts and analysts have widely noted the upcoming primary care physician shortage, a new Merritt Hawkins whitepaper reveals that physician shortages will begin to impact physician specialists as well.

In the whitepaper, Merritt Hawkins reviews the trends and implications of growing physician shortages in the U.S. using previous reports, CDC data, U.S. Census Bureau data and the Association of American Medical Colleges data. The whitepaper explains the factors that are driving the demand for medical specialists and the available supply of these physicians

Here are six insights from the whitepaper.

1. Patient demographics drive specialty and primary care physician demand. Patients age 65 or older visit physicians three times more than those 30 or younger. With approximately 10,000 baby boomers reaching age 65 per day, the need for medical specialists will increase. In addition, as incidence of chronic diseases increase, demand for specialists will increase.

2. Physician supply is hindered by a cap placed on graduate medical education funding.  In 1997, Congress placed cap on medical education funding through CMS, which has stalled the growth of residency training programs. According to the whitepaper, residency programs have not kept pace with population growth or medical school enrollment.

3. An aging physician workforce will drive supply shortages.  Currently, 43 percent of physicians in the U.S. are 55 years or older, which means a retirement wave is looming. In addition, certain specialties have a higher percentage of physicians over the age of 55. Pulmonology has the highest number of physicians over 55-years-old (73 percent), followed by psychiatry (60 percent), non invasive cardiology (54 percent) and orthopedic surgery (52 percent.)

4. Physician recruiting remains focused on specialists. In 2017, Merritt Hawkins reported 27 percent of its recruiting assignments were for primary care physicians while the remaining 73 percent were for specialty physicians or advance practitioners.

5. Physicians are nearly at capacity. In 2016, a study of 17,000 physicians conducted by Merritt Hawkins found 81 percent of primary care physicians were at capacity or overextended, while 80 percent of specialists reported they were at capacity or overextended.

6. Appointment wait times for specialties have grown in recent years. Between 2014 and 2017, new patient appointment wait times for five different specialties in 15 major metro areas increased by an average of 30 percent. For cardiology, in 2017 the average wait time was 21.1 days, compared to 16.8 days in 2014.

To read the full report, click here.

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