Studies Predict Specialist Provider Shortage
Several recent studies are predicting that the number of medical specialists will be insufficient to treat an aging baby boomer population over the next 30 years, predicting a "looming health care crisis," the Columbia State reports. According to the studies, cardiologists, pulmonologists, intensive care physicians and anesthesiologists will be among several specialists in high demand. A study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association states that the number of intensive care and lung specialists will decline "slightly" over the next three decades, but that demand for such doctors will rise 66% and 50%, respectively. Furthermore, a 1999 study by the American College of Cardiology predicted that the demand for heart specialists will increase 66% by 2030 and 93% by 2050, while the number of cardiologists is expected to increase by only 1% per year. These findings contrast with a 1994 report by the Council on Graduate Medical Education, a federal oversight department that monitors the health care work force, that stated there were too many specialists in the country.
Experts point to three main factors behind the "switch from too many to too few specialists." For one, "[p]lanners" expected managed care to restrict access to specialists, yet people still demand to see specialists for important problems. Secondly, one decade ago, the medical establishment declared that too many doctors were specializing, prompting more students to go into general practice and now leaving an eminent shortage. But the aging population is the largest factor. As the baby boomers age, the general population grows older, putting more Americans at risk for heart and lung problems, as well as cancer. "Everyone says we're going to run out of money for Medicare," said Dr. Mark Kelley, chief medical officer of the Henry Ford Health System and author of the JAMA report. He added, "But no one talks about who is going to take care of these patients." The potential shortage issue will be addressed next week at the Health Workforce 2000 Conference in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Claude Earl Fox, head of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, will deliver an address titled "A Looming Health Care Crisis in America? Workforce Shortages Limit Access to Care" (Borenstein, Columbia State, 12/6).