The physician shortage in America is quickly becoming dire. Data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) finds that we’ll be facing a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032. This care crisis creates both limitations and delays in the access to healthcare that is posing a real risk to patients.
Specialists in particular are in short supply. Estimates predict that we’ll see a shortage of 13,400 cardiologists, oncologists, infectious disease and pulmonology physicians by 2034 and a shortage of another 35,600 anesthesiologists, neurologists, emergency medicine and addiction medicine physicians according to AAMC. See this infographic.
The time sensitivity of these physician shortages is compounded by the fact that it takes between 12 and 15 years to train physicians. And, with the aging baby boomer population, more care and physicians are needed than ever before – even while the pool of practicing physicians continues to shrink: 35% of today’s physician workforce will be of retirement age in the next five years.
The Answer is Virtual Care
Working to increase access to care and expand the sphere of patients one specialist can serve is the growth of telemedicine programs. Telemedicine specialists – from cardiologists and neurologists to rheumatologists and psychiatrists – are rapidly increasing in prevalence for both rural and metropolitan health systems. The reason? They solve a number of problems brought about by the growing specialist shortage. Consider these burning problems faced by many hospitals:
- High Recruiting Costs. With a limited number of physician specialists comes competition. To attract and retain these specialists is becoming a serious challenge for many hospitals – particularly those in rural areas. Some have difficulty convincing physicians to relocate to rural communities. Others simply don’t have the patient volume to justify a full-time specialist and thus can’t shoulder the recruiting investment. Telemedicine is delivering a new care option that lessens this high cost of recruiting by offering virtualized, fractional care programs. One specialist can serve multiple hospitals, across regions from one single location. Thus, hospitals save on recruiting and full-time resources while still offering the valued specialties their patients need, closer to home.
- High Patient Transfer Rates. For many smaller hospitals, it can be difficult of offer a broad range of specialist services to support a smaller community or patient population. Not every patient needs a neurologist or hematologist for example, but for those that do, these specialists can be critical to their health outcomes. As a result, patients often must travel long distances to other care facilities where these specialists are offered. This is a hardship on the patient, and results in lost revenue for the hospital. Alternatively, telemedicine specialty programs can deliver that specialized care when and where it’s needed – without extra burden on the patient or risking patient transfers.
- High Staff Physician Burnout. Increased requirements for care, due to a shrinking physician population is placing heightened pressure and stress on the hospital’s existing staff physicians. Many are working extremely long hours, covering a growing number of patients, without relief. Staff specialists are no exception. Yet, retaining staff physicians couldn’t be more important than ever, given the difficulty recruiting them. Telemedicine is an ideal way to help share the load with on-staff specialists, giving them valuable relief to lower burnout and improve work-life balance. Telemedicine is also an ideal option to minimize staffing gaps during peak hours or to provide backup care for vacations or unexpected downtime.
More than a Specialty Stop Gap
The shortage of physician specialists will only get worse in the years to come. As physicians age and retire, recruiting will be even more competitive, and burnout will mount. Limitations on medical school and residency programs show that a wave of new physicians won’t be coming along any time soon. Thus, the one true answer is telemedicine. Tele-specialists are enhancing access to care, increasing hospital admissions and lowering patent transfers – all while giving patients the care they need to see improved health outcomes, closer to home. Learn more about Eagle’s telemedicine specialty programs here.
Check out our latest on-demand webinar: 5 Things to Know Before You Kick Off a Telemedicine Program.