Many States Report, Expect Physician Shortages
A "looming doctor shortage threatens to create a national health care crisis by further limiting access to physicians, jeopardizing quality and accelerating cost increases," the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the Times, 12 states -- including California, Texas and Florida -- have reported physician shortages or expect them within a few years. The reported shortages are among 12 specialties, including cardiology, radiology, and several pediatric and surgical subspecialties.
One in five U.S. residents lives in a rural or urban area is considered medically underserved by the federal government because of the low availability of physicians, according to the Times.
Wait times to see a dermatologist for a routine skin cancer examination in 15 large cities averaged 24 days, according to a 2004 survey by physician staffing firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates. Women in the 15 cities waited an average of 23 days for a routine gynecological checkup, the survey shows. The average wait for a visit with a cardiologist was 19 days, and the average wait to see an orthopedic surgeon for a knee injury was 17 days, according to the survey.
Within the next 15 years, aging baby boomers are expected to increase the demand for urologists and geriatricians, the Times reports. One study finds that the aging population will increase the demand for cataract surgery alone by 47%. By 2020, physicians are expected to retire at a rate of 22,000 a year, up from 9,000 in 2000, according to the Times.
To address the shortages, areas with the greatest physician and hospital shortages have been increasing physician salaries, and lawmakers are being urged to lift a cap on funding for physician training and to ease limits on the immigration of foreign physicians.
This month, the executive council of the Association of American Medical Colleges will consider a 30% increase in enrollment, double the increase it called for last year. In addition, some states -- including Florida, New Jersey and California -- are proposing building new medical schools or expanding existing schools (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 6/4).