How Do We Prevent the Physician Shortage?

A multipronged approach will be required to mitigate the possibility for severe physician shortages, specifically in specialized fields such as anesthesia. A physician shortage is defined as the gap between physician supply and demand, as determined by institutions within the medical community. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is one such resource. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Center for Workforce Studies, the physician shortage is expected to approach 104,900 physicians by 2030.[1] In addition, the AAMC summary brief indicates that the medical field presents a shortage of both primary care and specialty physicians, increasing the likelihood of a widespread serious physician shortage in the United States. The AAMC also reports on specific shortage figures by physician specialty, predicting a physician shortage of 7,300-41,300 for primary care and, more severe, 33,500-61,800 for non-primary care. Non-primary care specialties as defined by the AAMC are composed of physicians categorized under specialty services, including anesthesiology. Physician shortage calculations as presented by the AAMC are dependent on conditions implicit in physician supply and demand. Underestimates provide an optimistic viewpoint on the current physician shortage crisis, whereas the higher range estimates are potential results of a laissez-faire approach to the physician shortage issue.

A multipronged approach is necessary to combat the current and projected physician shortage crisis. One thoughtful approach may combine information technologies, increased specialty incentives, and innovative hospital delivery systems. Novel information technologies can act to reduce physician hours spent on administrative tasks, such as patient documentation. Woolhander et al. report that administrative duties dominate one-sixth of physicians’ working hours, leading to lower occupation satisfaction.[2] Thus, a serious reduction of administrative work will lessen the load on physicians. In addition, the federal government and medical colleges can play a role in reducing the physician shortage by enacting specific policies to address the issue through specific support mechanisms. At the provider level, delivery protocols should be modified to promote an integrated care system. In the anesthesia context, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) may be relied on as a resource in specialized cases in combination with other essential members of the medical case team. A redesign of care delivery systems can ensure that anesthesiologists are thoroughly supported, thus providing for the longevity of physicians in the field.

In sum, a multipronged approach is a feasible strategy to address serious physician shortage. Further, anesthesiologists, and medical educators must collaborate to develop nuanced techniques to address physician shortage in the field of anesthesiology, thus reducing the possibility of a severe shortage.

[1] https://aamc-black.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/73/32/7332e443-2302-4daa-a56e-6937a43646ea/2017_workforce_projections_key_findings.pdf

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25626223

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