Where Are All The Physicians?
Everyone hears about the shortage and need for primary care physicians, who by all accounts are financially undervalued, but how many Americans realize that a critical shortage of specialists is just ahead in a few years?
The 77 million baby boomers born in the boom years between 1946 and 1964 are reaching the age of 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day. They need primary care physicians to manage their overall healthcare. But they’ll also need orthopedic surgeons to fix their hip fractures, cardiac and vascular surgeons to open their blocked arteries, and cardiologists to treat their faltering heart rhythms. They’ll need surgeons to remove their lung cancers, breast cancers, and colon cancers, and medical oncologists to manage the cancers that aren’t amenable to surgery.
The United States healthcare system has been facing a decline in its primary care workforce, infrastructure, and access to primary care services for several years. A number of factors, including poor reimbursements to primary care physicians, low comparative income, and poor quality of work-life due to high patient loads, have contributed to more doctors choosing to train and practice in specialty medicine. This trend has lead to a shortage of primary care providers across the country—likely contributing to fragmented care, inappropriate use of specialists, and less emphasis on prevention.
Although 56% of patient visits in America are primary care, only 37% of physicians practice primary care medicine, and only 8% of the nation’s medical school graduates go into family medicine. People who are uninsured, low-income, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, or living in rural or inner-city areas are disproportionately likely to lack a usual source of care.