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The U.S. Physician Shortage: What You Need to Know

Supply and demand is a never-ending tug-of-war. In healthcare, one end of the rope is pulling toward progress, and the other end is being held back by insufficient manpower. Despite all the medical advancements and improved capabilities in modern healthcare, the problem is quite old-fashioned: There just aren’t enough available skilled physicians at the front line to utilize these advancements and provide their services to the fullest extent.

The physician shortage debate has raged for decades, but its existence is no longer a question; it’s a reality. According to the 2015 physician workforce projection report, released by the Association of American Medical Colleges, an even more pressing physician shortage is predicted by 2025.

However, such negative news can be an impetus for positive change in a system that requires much-needed, continuous improvements to make care more efficient and higher quality. To make this happen, the root causes of the problem must be understood. Here are some factors contributing to the physician shortage, as well as what could be done in each case to alleviate the problems.

 

More patients needing ongoing medical care

According to the AAMC study, a 17% increase in physician demand and a physician shortage of 46,000–90,000 are predicted by 2025. This increase in demand can be attributed to a steadily growing number of people in the older-age demographic who will require more medical services in the coming years. Demand has also been increased by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): quite simply, more insured people means more people seeking medical treatment.

Primary care is particularly affected by these factors: the projected future shortage is estimated to be between 12,500 and 31,100 physicians, because physicians are increasingly choosing to pursue specialties to increase their value. This is perhaps not positive news for the baby boomer population and the newly insured, many of whom have chronic conditions that require continual support from a primary care or family practice physician.

Finally, the cap on the number of residency training positions that are funded by Medicare means resident physicians are having to move states to train because there aren’t enough spots available where they are. This leads to a loss of medical trainees for some states and a shortage of highly-skilled service in local communities.

 

Increasing workload, decreasing incentives

Then, there is all the work physicians have to do that isn’t directly related to patient care. It’s no longer enough to have top-notch skills as a medical provider, or to worry about how to treat all the patients who need to be seen. And many new policy mandates, meant to facilitate efficiency and increase revenue for hospitals and physicians, have also resulted in new burdens. For example, electronic health records (EHRs) were meant to make documentation easier, and the switching of billing codes from ICD-9 to ICD-10 was supposed to make medical billing easier and faster. Instead, both have contributed to extra work in data entry and seemingly endless technology updates for a properly functioning system. When these administrative responsibilities are piled on the working physician, the incentive to practice is siphoned away. It’s no wonder so many are at risk for physician burnout. The accumulated workload, combined with the trend toward business-oriented medicine, are sending established physicians packing, even as bringing in new ones is proving difficult.

 

Can we maximize efficiency and meaningful, quality care?

To prepare for the inevitable increase in patients, healthcare practices of all sizes must restructure. This starts with providing greater support to physicians in various forms.

Team-based medical care redistributes tasks according to skill level and capability, letting each team member work efficiently on the tasks they are trained do. For example, medical assistants can provide patient educationand medical scribes can take on the burden of patient documentation, EHR data entry, and even coding and billing. The team approach saves physicians’ time, improves doctor/patient interaction, and speeds the revenue cycle. In addition, care teams can actually save you money: using health coaches to provide patient education and support has been shown to reduce the cost of ER visits.

Providing increased training support for resident physicians in the form of increased federal funding for residency spots in hospitals or community-based training is vital. Government and other public initiatives must aim to systematically increase physician numbers in shortage states if these trainee physicians are going to be allowed to remain where they are.

Despite the impending shortage, we have the resources and the skills from a variety of highly-trained people at all levels of the healthcare profession who are able to provide patients with the quality care that they deserve. Achieving the intended efficiencies requires that we mobilize technical and human resources to coordinate a working platform that supports physicians in providing the best care possible.

Care Navigators
As healthcare business models evolve, so should care teams.

Patients who are paired with Care Navigators report feeling less anxiety, and an increased ability to self-manage their conditions between visits. And providers report increased job satisfaction from improved efficiency, and knowing their patients have access to care teams, and strategic support.

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Chronic Care Management
With an increased aging population managing two or more chronic illnesses, extending your care teams’ ability to communicate with patients is critical. We take a strategic approach to helping patients chart a path towards their health goals, while self-managing their chronic conditions between clinical visits.

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Artificial Intelligence
Our advanced AI solutions tackle complex documentation challenges to reduce the administrative burden preventing doctors from delivering precision care. We'll guide you through the best practices for incorporating AI into your workflow. Gain visibility into your data with enhanced analytics driven by AI and CTAs.

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Nurse Care Team Assistants
Adding a qualified Nurse CTA to the care team increases quality of work-life and reduces stress on nurses. The nursing profession is also experiencing an alarming shortage due to increased clerical burdens and burnout.

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Revenue Cycle Management
Transition Revenue Cycle Management into the modern age with a suite of software tools that will transform your billing and coding processes. Transact at lightning speed, with increased transparency and decreased siloes. The QueueLogix software application seamlessly integrates with existing EMRs to ensure the clinical activities and back-office operations are well aligned, monitored and successful.

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Referral Management
Referrals scheduled by navigators in the clinical setting builds long term, patient care integrity across the care continuum. With the authority, along with the provider to search for specialists in network, navigators assess their schedules, and ensure appointment compliance.

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Scribe Services
There’s a reason why we’re the nation’s most frequently used scribe company: we offer professionally trained in-person and virtual medical scribes to meet the specific needs of our clients. We offer a variety of scribe programs, as well as technology and personnel solutions that address revenue cycle management, the transition to value-based care, and more through our HealthChannels family of companies.

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