5 Ways We Can Cope With a 90,000-Doctor Shortage by 2020

by Tera Tuten on April 22, 2014

Soliant-2020-doctor-shortageThe American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that within the next six years, the U.S. will face a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians.

What’s more, that figure is expected to climb to 130,000 by 2025.

Here’s a look at five ways we might be able to cope with 90,000 fewer MDs than we thought we needed in the next few years:

1. Use remote medicine

Telehealth (or telemedicine) is being touted as one potential means of coping with the expected physician shortage.

Health monitoring equipment with web-based applications allows people to receive care from the comfort of their own homes, reducing doctor visits and patient expenses by linking people in remote areas to doctors in larger centers.

This can cut travel time and costs for patients by up to 58%, according to a study published in Telemedicine Journal and e-Health.

2. Reward physicians who use electronic medical records to coordinate care

Taking it a step further, if a doctor can manage said health issues over email, they’ve potentially helped cut the shortage by 25% according to a recent Affordable Care Act study.

If they succeed in managing chronic diseases – and keeping patients out of hospitals – they could receive bonuses under one ACA model.

3. Train more “physician extenders”

Physician extenders are health care professionals such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners – also referred to as mid-level practitioners — who can diagnose patients, order tests, develop treatment plans, and write prescriptions under the supervision of a physician.

Physician extenders can help alleviate some of the routine work for physicians because of the extra time they can spend with patients, allowing the entire office to work at a higher efficiency, treating more patients and maximizing office hours.

Training more of these professionals could allow for the expansion of nurse-managed community health centers that serve low-income patients, taking some of the burden off the doctors in ERs, where many of these  patients currently receive their care.

4. Increase residency funding

Med schools have been reacting to the predicted doctor shortage by expanding enrollment over the past several years, and – to be sure – national enrollment rates are up.

But with the current cap on federally funded medical residency, the number of medical school graduates will soon outstrip the number of available residency positions in teaching hospitals.

Increasing funding for residency programs could help take this speed-bump out of the equation.

5. Realize that things might not be as bad as they seem

Between all of the above – many of which Obamacare takes into consideration – we might actually not be that badly off. (If you disagree with that statement, have your say in the Comments section below.)

“AAMC’s projections assume that most doctors will continue to practice medicine the way they have for the past 30 years. In other words, they are basing their predictions on a static model,” says UK health columnist Maggie Mahar writing in The Guardian (a great outside viewpoint).

According to ACA literature, the U.S. could cut the physician shortage in half just by expanding nurse-managed community health centers and providing incentives for doctors to diagnose digitally.

What do you think? Should we take the warnings of the AAMC (which has a vested interest in increasing government funding for medical colleges) with a grain of salt? Or are we really, truly in trouble with the number of doctors who’ll be available for the amount of care needed in 2020 and 2025? Join the conversation in the Comments area below.


Why a physician shortage is inevitable [KevinMD.com]

No, There Won’t Be a Doctor Shortage [NY Times]

More on how physician extenders can help manage the projected doctor shortage

Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants: Why You Should Hire One (or the Other) [Profitable Practice]


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Booke 04.22.14 at 8:00 pm

Last year there was a record high number of applicants for first year medical/osteopathic school. Last year there was a record high number of medical/osteopathic students, 90,000. Last year there was a record high number of GME trainees (residents and fellow), 130,000. Last year the number of new physicians accepting Medicare patients increased at rate twice as fast as the number of new Medicare beneficiaries. This would normally be great news for consumers of health care. Unfortunately it’s actually bad news because our health care is paid for via a “fee-for-service” payment system which encourages physicians to do “more” when “more” is unnecessary – 30% of what physicians do is waste. We’re facing a very dangerous over-supply (tidal wave) of physicians.


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