The medical world in the United States has a perfect storm approaching – we could have a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025 as our population ages and lives longer. With fewer funds, fewer doctors, and more demand for healthcare, technology for running a more efficient practice will become a necessity for every office and hospital.
The crux of this problem is that there are already not enough doctors, and this deficit will only increase if certain issues are not taken care of. There are plenty medical students – a record 49,480 people applied to medical school all over the US in 2014, a number that continues to grow year after year. But, only 20,343 – less than half – were admitted. More people than ever before want to be doctors, and many are going to school and studying to be doctors. So why is this large group not making it all the way to practicing?
Because there is an on-going 17-year cap on residency program funding, there is a limit on the number of newly graduated medical students getting into these programs. In 2014, several hundred medical students did not match to a residency.
To combat this issue, medical schools have started accepting more students, and learning hospitals are willing to expand their programs. But, because there isn’t the federal funding to cover the cost of residency, hospitals cannot expand their programs and these students are not becoming practicing doctors.
Additionally, as many as a third of the nation’s doctors will be hanging up their stethoscope and retiring this decade. Not only will they not be replaced fast enough, they will become part of another piece of this puzzle: the aging Baby Boomer generation.
A major foreseeable challenge over the next few decades is the aging Baby Boomer generation. This generation is much larger than the generations it precedes, meaning less funding from taxes, and fewer doctors to take care of them as their medical needs increase. Also, because medicine has advanced, people are living much longer lives, with more expensive care needed as they age. There is a huge need for doctors to provide healthcare to these patients, a need which will only continue to grow in the coming years.
With healthcare patient demand shooting way up and healthcare provider supply sinking, every person will be affected. Wait times for appointments will become staggering. A study done by Merritt Hawkings, Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicaid and Medicare Acceptance Rates, shows wait times in Boston average 45.4 days. Boston had the longest average wait time of the 15 cities surveyed and Dallas had the shortest wait time, still 10.2 days. Overall, wait times are down across the country from 2009 but that trend could change soon with the continued shortage of doctors and aging population. Perhaps one of the more shocking stats is “The average appointment wait time to see a family physician ranged from a high of 66 days in Boston to a low of 5 days in Dallas.” Boston has many doctors, but even more demand.
This issue could also cause a larger gap in care provided to the poor, and possibly all the way up through the middle class. Although the Affordable Care Act allowed for many people to get coverage, there is a large group that falls between the cracks of coverage. This group cannot get coverage on their own or through the state. If the current trends continue, this type of problem could grow to where premium care is only for the wealthy.
Technology is needed now more than ever to face these challenges. Doctors’ offices and hospital units will need to become their most efficient to keep up with the growing demand. Schedules need to be optimized – appointment gaps will become much more than frustrating. The inner workings of the medical system will hopefully change in time to ensure the nation continues to provide top of the line healthcare throughout every hospital. Until that happens, to level out supply and demand, we will have to rely heavily on technological advancements.