By 2025, the United States could be facing a physician shortage larger than originally anticipated according to a report released Tuesday by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The AAMC, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit health care research group, expects a total physician shortfall of between 61,700 and 94,700 if demand, largely driven by aging baby boomers and expanded health insurance coverage, continues to outpace the nation's supply of doctors over the next decade.
In 2015, an earlier version of the AAMC's report predicted a shortfall of between 46,100 to 90,400.
"The 2016 updated projections of a physician shortfall in 2025 are of a similar magnitude to the 2015 projections," the report reads. "Differences between the 2016 update and the 2015 projections largely reflect the use of more recent data and improvements to methods."
The report states physician retirement will have the greatest impact on supply since one-third of all currently active doctors will be 65 or older within 10 years. A significant increase in demand will be driven by population growth and and a growing number of people older than 65.
The AAMC also predicts a modest rise in demand driven by an increase in the number of people who have health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act.
One of the largest gaps expected to emerge in the next decade relates to the number of surgical specialists
While demand for specialty surgeons is expected to grow, "the supply of several larger surgical specialties (e.g., ophthalmology and urology) will fall," the report reads. "There will be fewer surgical specialists in 2025 than are practicing today ... leading to a projected shortfall of between 25,200 and 33,200 surgeons by 2025."
A shortfall of between 37,400 and 60,300 is expected among all non-primary care specialty physicians.
To mitigate the shortage, the report calls for federal funding to help create 3,000 new residency positions per year over the next five years to train physicians as they leave medical school. After graduating medical school, all medical doctors must complete a residency to be able to care for patients independently.
"Medical schools have done their part to increase the overall number of physicians by expanding their class sizes, and now Congress must approve a modest increase in federal support for new doctor training if the United States is to increase its overall number of physicians," the report states.
Adding residencies in Wisconsin
The Medical College of Wisconsin is seeking accreditation for several new residency programs in the northern, central and western regions of the state. Though combined, the state's two medical colleges, MCW and University of Wisconsin Health, employ more than 1,500 resident trainees, MCW President and CEO Dr. John Raymond said more positions are needed.
"This is a problem and it's a national problem," Raymond said. "It’s going to be a major obstacle for medical schools to address the shortage of physicians in the country. In Wisconsin, the shortage is most acute in rural-serving health systems and a few under-served urban regions."
Included in MCW's plans are programs opened in partnership with Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls, St. Joseph's Hospital in West Bend and health systems in Green Bay, Wausau, Steven's Point and the Fox River Valley. MCW also hopes to create psychiatry residency programs in partnership with Ministry Health in Weston, the Tomah VA and the Green Bay Huempfner VA.
The plan is to have between 75 and 100 residents rotating through programs in those regions in the next three years.
"MCW has worked with a number of partners across the state to create new residency programs so that these students will have destinations to go to when they're done and to partially address the residency shortage across the state," Raymond said. "They're all in preliminary phases of development, but we have committed partners and we're going to move forward."
Last year, MCW opened a campus in Green Bay focused on general surgery, psychiatry and primary care that matriculated 26 students. The medical college will open another campus in Wausau this year, where it is hoping to recruit another 25 students for its inaugural class.
In addition to adding residency programs and increasing medical college enrollment, the AAMC report also recommended innovations in the industry that improve efficiency and better use of technology.
“We believe this is a measured approach to deal with a problem that has the potential to affect every American," AAMC president and CEO Darrell Kirch said in the report. "It strikes a balance between our nation’s budget constraints and what medical schools and teaching hospitals believe is our responsibility to meet the needs of patients. Because it can take up to 10 years to train a doctor, our nation needs to act now.”