The Impending Crisis: How the Healthcare Industry is Struggling to Cope with the Twin Challenges of Physician Shortage and Burnout
The healthcare industry is facing a potential crisis due to a "double whammy" of pandemic burnout and an aging population of physicians. According to a recent survey by Elsevier Health, up to 75% of healthcare workers may leave the profession by 2025. Additionally, a 2020 study by the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Michael Dill, AAMC's director of workforce studies, believes that the aging of the physician workforce should be the biggest concern for hospitals across the country. Almost a quarter of physicians in the US are 65 and over, and retirement may become a real phenomenon that would affect patients' access to healthcare services. This issue could be more critical in rural areas where a small practice's retirement may eliminate the entirety of the physician supply.
Pandemic burnout is also contributing to the shortage of physicians, with younger doctors leaving the profession at a faster rate due to the burdensome paperwork and administrative tasks that have become part of their daily work. This stress can push them to consider early retirement or a career change.
The shortage of physicians has already affected patients' ability to find physicians, especially in certain specialties, and it is expected to worsen as the over-65 population increases. To address this issue, the healthcare industry needs to increase the number of physicians trained while finding ways to support physicians and reduce their workload, such as utilizing telemedicine and delegating some tasks to advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants.
Efforts to address the shortage of physicians also include removing licensing barriers for immigrant doctors and increasing funding for graduate medical education (GME) to train more physicians. The proposed model will add 3,750 new physicians each year, starting in 2026.
To prevent mass physician retirement, the industry must find better ways to leverage the entirety of the healthcare team and allow physicians to remain active in the field but at a reduced rate. Many physicians are already cutting back their hours, taking a pay cut, and delegating paperwork and documentation to other team members to decrease their workload and reduce burnout. However, this may not be a long-term solution to the problem, and more significant efforts are necessary to address the looming shortage of physicians.
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