Is talk of a doctor shortage myth or covered-up truth?

If true, the health of all of us will decline, with a corresponding decline in life spans

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doctor shortageSAN FRANCISCO, CA Jan 19, 2016/ Troy Media/ – When it comes to health care, the issue may not just be figuring out the right incentives to [popup url=”http://www.troymedia.com/2013/02/27/incentives-to-attract-more-physicians-to-rural-areas-may-be-failing” height=”800″ width=”800″ scrollbars=”0″]attract more physicians to rural areas[/popup]. It may be much worse. It may be finding ways to persuade young people to become primary care doctors in the future.

Currently, the evidence for a doctor shortage is still open for debate, because the issue is controversial and liable to cause panic if hard statistical evidence is rounded up that shows there will be a critical shortage of doctors in the coming decade.

On the one hand, [popup url=”https://www.aamc.org/download/153160/data/physician_shortages_to_worsen_without_increases_in_residency_tr.pdf” height=”800″ width=”800″ scrollbars=”0″]the Association Of American of Medical College[/popup] is making some hard-hitting predictions:

“Total shortages in 2025 vary by specialty grouping and include: A shortfall of between 12,500 and 31,100 primary care physicians. A shortfall of between 28,200 and 63,700 non-primary care physicians, including: 5,100 to 12,300 medical specialists 23,100 to 31,600 surgical specialists 2,400 to 20,200 other specialists.”

On the other hand, health policy experts argue that health care should not be measured by physician count, but by how to streamline unnecessary medical care for people who don’t need it, how increase the overall productivity of hospitals, how to make better use of advanced medical technology and how to hire more knowledgeable and skilled nurses.

There are a number of clues suggesting the current state of doctor shortages, including:

  • more doctors are experiencing higher pressure to perform faster with a higher number of patients, and often relying on smart technology like [popup url=”http://www.practicesuite.com/” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″]Practice Suite[/popup] to eliminate practice inefficiencies when scheduling patients, managing check-ins, and orchestrating clinical care.

Is this a sign that more people are getting sicker and need to be treated faster to handle the increased influx because there are fewer doctors available? Or is this just a new love affair with technology – or do doctors have to do more with less?

  • the increasing need for doctors to service remote areas with video appointments.

Is this because doctors don’t want to work in remote areas or because they are too busy to leave their practices?

At this point, you may think the evidence for a doctor shortage is flimsy.

However, here is some firmer evidence mentioned in FEE, the Foundation for Economic Education, in an article entitled [popup url=”http://fee.org/freeman/is-there-really-a-doctor-shortage” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″]Is There Really a Doctor Shortage?[/popup]

“The cry of doctor shortage has been heard for years, but its political origin tended to discount it. Recently, however, such a staid and respected publication as the New England Journal of Medicine observed that medical educators are expressing concern over the decline in number of suitable applicants for medical training, and are intimated that some medical schools are already experiencing difficulty filling their classes with suitably qualified students.”

While this is not conclusive evidence either, it does increase suspicion that there is more going on than we have been told. It does suggest that there may be something to this speculation about a doctor shortage.

If there is a doctor shortage, what is the reason for it?

Here are three reasons why there is more going on than what we have been told by the media and governmental agencies:

  1. Fewer doctors want to be primary care physicians. The reason for this is economic. Specialized doctors earn much more and have a lighter patient load. Since the debts from medical schools are equally high for all doctors, it makes more sense for medical students to plan ahead and specialize while they still have a chance.
  2. Most primary care doctors are Baby Boomers. This means that they are now over the 50-year mark and looking forward to retirement. This will not only leave a gap in the future, but they are already reducing their patient loads since they are planning on closing their practices.
  3. More patients are Baby Boomers, too. Not only are a large number of doctors Baby Boomers, but so is a large proportion of the North American population. As patients become more elderly, they tend to have less ability and resources to look after their own health, with many suffering from chronic health problems. With many older patients to look after, doctors don’t have much capacity to take on new patients.

So what will happen if there really is a doctor shortage?

People in Canada and the United States will still have health care even when there is a shortage of primary care physicians, but they will get less of it as there will be a concentration of services for those in emergency care in hospitals. In other words, serious injuries and illnesses will take precedence over those with less life-threatening illnesses.

The fact that fewer people will be able to get health checkups and treat their minor issues will result in more people getting sicker over time. In other words, more chronic diseases will develop because prevention did not happen at an earlier stage.

Since there will be an unhealthier population, hospital stays will increase, the cost of care will go up, and the overall decline in health will reduce life spans. For instance, someone with diabetes will not have their health monitored and, if left untreated, their illness will be at greater risk for more severe issues like kidney failure.

If there is, indeed, a doctor shortage, it will be much better to discuss the issue now rather than later.


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