If you weren’t sure before, the new physician workforce report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) confirms that the United States is going to be facing a severe physician shortage over the next decade. AAMC predicts that by 2025, there will be a physician shortage between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians. This is higher than the physician shortage that they predicted last year (46,100 – 90,400 physicians needed).
From 2010 to 2020, it is estimated that the number of primary care physicians will increase 8 percent, from 205,000 to 220,800. However, the number of primary care physicians needed will experience a 14 percent increase from 212,500 to 241,200. Behavioral health physicians will also be in high demand due to a shrinking workforce that cannot replace their workers fast enough to comply with the industry need.
Reasons for the physician shortage
Aging senior population
By the year 2050, the United Stated older population (65 years or older) is projected to reach 83.7 million, which is nearly double the 2012 estimated population of 43.1 million. Between 2014 and 2025, the older population is estimated to grow by 41%. There will be an even higher demand for healthcare physicians as these baby boomers continue to reach senior age.
Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Since the implementation of the Affordable care Act (ACA) in 2010, approximately 17 million more Americans now have health insurance. This is a significant factor that led to the demand for healthcare professionals doubling in 2014. The increase of patients has doctors spending less time with their patients, and more time doing paperwork.
The increase of patients has put a strain on current physicians in the industry, leading to physician burnout. CompHealth, a large locum tenens staffing agency, conducted a survey of 1,000 physicians and found more than one-third of physicians were inclined to leave the medical industry due to the ACA. That number was even higher for physicians in private practice with 45 percent of them inclined to leave the profession.
Because hospitals are trying to cut costs and remain competent and up to date with accelerating health care practices, there has been a rising trend of hospital consolidations, physician group acquisitions, and third-party outsourcing. When senior physicians leave these practices, the remaining physicians are left with bigger workloads, which can lead to physician burnout.
How locum tenens help ease the shortage
As you probably already know, locum tenens is Latin for “to stand in for”, or literally “one holding a place”. In the 1970s, the government allocated grants for temporary doctors in underserved rural areas. This is how the locum tenens staffing industry was born.
Initially, health care systems were skeptical, wondering if these physicians were only there because they could not get hired anywhere else. Now, between the trend of millennials wanting to travel and work, and health care retirees looking to supplement their savings, the attitude regarding the locum tenens industry has changed.
In 2014, about 5 percent of the total physician workforce, or 40,000 physicians worked locum tenens, and we can expect to see this trend grow. According to The Physicians Foundation’s 2014 Survey of America’s Physicians, 9.1 percent of over 20,000 respondents planned to work locum tenens in the next one to three years; up from 6.4 percent in 2012.
As the popularity of locum tenens continues to rise, more healthcare organizations are turning to locum tenens as part of their staffing strategy. This is extremely helpful for permanent physicians because they are able to work fewer hours, take some time off, and avoid burnout. While there may be no quick fix to the physician shortage, locum tenens can help to bridge the gap and maintain patient care.