The physician shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing healthcare providers. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts there will be a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020, and it will grow to more than 130,000 by 2025.
The physician shortage is a complex problem, and providers have come up with a variety of solutions to solve their staffing challenges so they can continue to deliver healthcare services to their patients. Below are examples of ways providers are overcoming the physician shortage.
Group doctor visits
Not enough doctors to see all your patients individually? See them in groups.
More and more family physicians are offering group doctor visits. Several patients with similar medical conditions meet with their doctor and other health professionals at the same time to discuss their situation. The medical professionals provide medical advice, and fellow patients offer their personal experiences.
There are some advantages to group visits. Visits are much longer. They can be up to 2 hours, which is a big increase over the typical 15-minute one-on-one visit. Patients also benefit from hearing about how other patients are dealing with their condition. Studies have shown that patients with Type 2 diabetes who attended group visits had better readings for blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and other health indicators than those who received one-on-one care.
The physician shortage has made it very difficult for many organizations to find new permanent physicians. With such a limited pool to choose from, many organizations are reporting that it is taking longer than ever to hire permanent physicians.
Many have started using locum tenens physicians to ensure they can continue to provide healthcare services while they search for a permanent physician.
Organizations in rural areas are having a particularly hard time attracting quality providers because so few physicians live in rural areas. Some may never find a permanent physician, and they rely on a steady stream of locum tenens physicians to staff their organizations.
Telemedicine is another solution for organizations that are short-staffed. Providers can treat patients virtually, via video conferencing and integrated diagnostic tools such as stethoscopes, video laryngoscopy, ultrasound, and blood pressure measuring tools.
Telemedicine allows healthcare organizations to easily add providers to their organization with minimal cost. Organizations can also use telemedicine to extend the reach of their existing staff. For example, one psychiatrist can be used to treat patients in multiple locations without the expenses and time that would come with having a provider travel to each facility.
More than 500 medical school graduates did not match into a residency this year. The number of available residency slots limits the number of physicians who can enter the workforce.
Some hospitals and healthcare organizations are taking a long-term approach to the physician shortage and are establishing or expanding residency programs to train more physicians at their facility.
Organizations that expand their residency programs not only increase the physician workforce overall. They lay the ground work for increasing their own workforce. The idea is that physicians who train with the organization will develop roots in the area, and choose to stay when they finish their training.
Integrated care teams
While there may be a shortage of physicians, the number of other healthcare provider types, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, is on the rise.
The number of nurse practitioners has more than doubled since 2001, with more than 189,000 nurse practitioners currently practicing in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that physician assistants will be the second-fastest-growing profession in the next decade, increasing from 74,800 in 2008 to 103,900 in 2018.
More healthcare organizations are embracing the use of integrated care teams that include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other healthcare providers. The collaborative care model allows physicians to delegate some of their responsibilities to NPs and PAs, allowing them to treat more complex cases.