Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wolf! Wolf! Wolf! Health Reform Law Speeds Doctor Shortage: May Precipiate Access Crisis

If one cries Wolf! too often, people stop listening. That may be why the public and their political representatives heed not warnings of a looming doctor shortage. Yet everybody in the know - from hospitals short on doctors, to physician recruiting firms, to retiring doctors looking for replacements, to patients unable to find a physician, to the sick waiting for hours in emergency rooms, to yours truly – have repeatedly howled a doctor shortage looms, will surely grow worse, and may soon morph into a political crisis.

Now America’s medical colleges, aided and abetted by the widely read WSJ blog, have joined the wolf pack (see WSJ Blog, September 30, 2010, below).

Med Schools: Health-Care Overhaul To Accelerate Doctor Shortage

About 33 million currently uninsured Americans are expected to enter the health-care system because of the new law. That influx will boost the projected shortfall of doctors by 50%, to 62,900, from a previous estimate of 39,600.

The doctor deficit will occur in both primary care and specialties since many of these new patients will suffer from previously untreated conditions — such as heart disease — for which they will need more complex care, Atul Grover, chief advocacy officer of the AAMC, tells the Health Blog.

Over the long haul, however, the projected physician shortfall won’t differ dramatically from the current estimate of 130,000 by 2025. That’s because many of those who are new to the health-care system will move on to Medicare, the government insurance plan for the elderly, says Grover. “As much as we’ve tried to create improvements to the health-care system … it’s going to be real hard to take care of people if you don’t have the bodies to do it,” he says.

The shortfall could be reduced by increasing the number of slots available for residency training as well as “making better use” of other health professionals like nurses, physician assistants and technicians, Grover says.

“It’s got to be a multi-pronged approach if we want to make sure Americans have access to health care,” says Grover.

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