Staffing Shortages Predicted for Specialists, Dentists
Physicians, health care policy officials, and state lawmakers met yesterday at the Health Workforce 2000 Conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss the "imminent shortage" of specialty doctors, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Federal studies presented at the meeting examined several areas of specialty medicine that face future shortages, including dentistry, anesthesiology and gerontology. A study published in the Dec. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that although the number of pulmonologists and doctors who specialize in intensive care will decline "slightly" by 2030, the demand for such services will rise 66% for intensive care physicians and 50% for pulmonologists. Another study conducted last year by the American College of Cardiology estimated that demand for cardiologists will rise 66% by 2030 and 93% by 2050. The number of cardiologists, however, is expected to increase by only 1% per year.
The shortage of specialists was prompted in part by a 1994 Council on Graduate Medical Education report that said that there were too many specialists in the health care work force. The council "recommended limiting the number of specialists to just half of all physicians," which resulted in more medical students pursuing careers in general practice. Other factors contributing to the anticipated shortage include an aging population and the "faulty" assumption that health insurance companies would restrict the use of specialists. To counter the projected shortage, COGME is "rethinking" its stance on specialists. The new studies "call for shifting the emphasis to more specialists and fewer generalists, and for increasing insurance reimbursements to doctors" (Borenstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/11).
As for the shortage of dentists, some experts cite the fact that more people are keeping their teeth for longer periods of time -- and thus requiring more dental services. Claude Earl Fox, head of the Health Resources and Services Administration, said that the dental workforce "is declining and it's going to get worse." The American Dental Association, however, says that while there may be regional shortages of dentists, there is "no sign of a national dental crisis." The ADA expects the number of dentists to increase 10% by 2020, ADA representative L. Jackson Brown said (Davis, USA Today, 12/11).