The prevailing point of view in recent years has been we will face a significant shortage of physicians because of the addition of previously uninsured Americans. In Health Attitude, I wrote there may not be a shortage of physicians, possibly even a surplus. I cited various technological factors, increasing usage of physician extenders, and the use of algorithms and self-diagnosis. A researcher from George Washington University School of Nursing in Washington, D.C., has studied the question in depth and wrote an op-ed in Academic Medicine explaining his findings.
Although the researcher does not see a shortage overall, he believes there will be shortages in individual communities and specialties. The researcher, Edward Salzburg, said, “The maldistribution of physicians requires a different policy response than a general shortage.” The specific reasons Salzburg does not see an overall shortage are as follows:
The ranks of non-physician providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, are growing faster than the growth rate of the U.S. population.
Non-physician providers can help address much of the growing demand for services.
The supply of physicians is growing modestly each year, with 1.7 percent annual growth in new GME entrants.
Team-based care, incentives to improve efficiency and other elements of healthcare reform are making the impact of each provider spread further.
Technological advances in telehealth, eHealth and EHRs will help providers become more efficient and effective.
Read more about the factors influencing the future availability of physicians in Health Attitude.