For a number of years, experts have been warning that the current physician shortage is projected to become more severe. Not only will there be too few primary care physicians to meet the needs of the aging U.S. population, there will also be shortages in a range of medical specialties. What steps can you take to ensure your family can get timely access to the care they need?
The Association of American Medical Colleges recently published a report that projects a total physician shortage of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians by 2025. There are projected to be up to 35,600 too few primary care physicians and a shortfall of up to 60,300 specialists. Among the medical specialties that are expected to have too few physicians are:
- Orthopedic surgeons: Some experts project a 17-fold increase in knee replacements and a six-fold increase in hip replacements by 2030 as the population ages and more people are overweight, causing increased joint wear, but the number of surgeons in this specialty is projected to fall short of being able to keep pace with the demand for care in a timely manner.
- Clinical oncologists: While the number of people with cancer is projected to grow as the U.S. population ages, the number of clinical oncologists is not growing nearly as quickly. In addition, 50% of current oncologists will likely retire in the next 15 years.
Specialty care shortages are also projected in neurology, gastroenterology, psychiatry, OB/GYN, pediatrics, emergency medicine, cardiology, and pulmonology.
The physician shortage is already having an effect on how long people have to wait to schedule an appointment. In one study, there was a 66-day wait to see a family medicine physician and a 46-day wait to see an OB/GYN in Boston. In Washington, D.C., there was an average wait time of 32 days to see a cardiologist and in San Diego an average wait of 18 days to see an orthopedist.
How to maintain access to care during a physician shortage
To help ensure that you and your family have access to the primary care you need to help you stay healthy and manage any health problems you face, you might consider joining a concierge medicine practice. These physician practices charge a monthly or annual fee, usually do not accept health insurance, offer same-day appointments, and spend more time with patients by limiting the number of patients they treat.
Another option is to work with a direct primary care practice. Direct primary care physicians have a set menu of prices for common primary care services or charge a fairly modest monthly or yearly fee to access these services. Many of these physicians do not accept health insurance, but, because they see fewer patients, they’re able to offer same-day appointments and longer appointments like concierge physicians do.
While concierge medicine and direct primary care can ensure your access to primary and preventive care, to build a complete healthcare access solution that encompasses both primary and specialty care, it can be helpful to add personal health advisory services to your strategy. A personal health advisor can expedite access to experienced specialty care physicians in orthopedics, oncology, and any other specialty you need for second opinions and care, as well as provide evidence-based information on treatment options, including clinical trials. With all of these pieces in place, you’ll have the tools to successfully navigate the physician shortage and get the care you need.