A current and future look at physician demographics in America
Physicians today are confronted with a new reality. Reimbursements are declining while administrative costs are escalating. The adoption of clinical information systems is transforming care delivery and the potential for health care reform brings uncertainty going forward.
The future delivery system will be shaped, in part, by the supply of physicians. An adequate number of physicians is essential to ensure access to quality health care services. Currently, there are more than 700,000 physicians active in patient care, according to the 2009 American Medical Association Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S. More than 250,000 active physicians are over age 55.
Whether the United States will have enough doctors in the future is a subject for debate. Quantifying and judging physician supply is difficult to determine, relying, in part, on assumptions about patterns of demand, demographics and distribution. The more difficult aspect is predicting how health care reform will shape health care delivery in the future. "No one believes the system will be the same in 20 years," says James Bentley, the American Hospital Association's senior vice president for strategic policy and planning.
Bentley notes discrepancies in physician supply predictions, with some studies forecasting a surplus while others warn of severe shortages. Accurately predicting the nation's future needs is important because it can take at least a decade for a physician to train and enter the workforce. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of 124,000 physicians by 2025. AAMC advocates expanding medical school enrollment by 30 percent by 2015, as well as boosting the number of Medicare residency positions.
Some regions, especially rural areas, are already experiencing a shortage. "Many physicians want to work in diverse areas and their spouses have professional careers," says Bentley. That limits many to seeking employment in metropolitan and urban areas.
Hospitals must build strong, collaborative relationships with physicians to succeed in the future. This will include developing new medical staff models that are more relevant for physicians today, with team-based care delivery, flexibility and innovation. This gatefold takes a close look at current physician demographics, as well as some long-term projections.
Click here to download a PDF of the Gatefold.
This article first appeared in the August 2009 issue of H&HN magazine.