When discussing the imminent demographical strains on Medicare and Social Security in the USA a few weeks ago, we noted that one of these strains will be the shortage of healthcare workers. Just to follow up on that point, the Association of American Medical Colleges is predicting that within 13 years (not long now, people!) the USA will be lacking tens of thousands of physicians.
By 2032, the Association projects that there will be a shortage of between 46,900 and 121,900 physicians in primary and specialty care. This dearth of doctors is due to an ageing population working in two ways.
First, an ageing population requires more healthcare for longer. According to the Association’s executive vice president, Dr Atul Grover, older patients use two to three times as many medical services as younger patients and the number of people over the age of 65 will grow by 50 percent within the next 15 years.
The second way in the ageing population is going to affect the number of physicians in the future is that one-third of all doctors currently working will be older than 65 in the next decade – retirements will start to bite into the current number of doctors.
This shortage is already being felt in some areas of the USA. Arizona, for instance, has 77.9 active primary caregivers per 100,000 people; the average across the US is 91.7. Arizona is not the state with the lowest number of primary caregivers in the country (it is only 44th) but this low proportion will only get worse since it is the state with the fourth-fastest population growth. And as more retirees move to the southwest for the sun, this doctor shortage will only get more acute. At the moment the State needs about 600 primary caregivers, but that number will rise to 2000 by the end of the next decade, according to the University of Arizona.
Medical training schemes in the state will help, but keeping doctors in the state is another issue – generally only about half of trainees tend to remain in the place where they train.
Another proposed measure is to ease licensing laws to make it easier for doctors licensed in other states to move and practice in Arizona. That may work in the short term, but soon the entire country is going to be short of doctors as the population continues to age. Where are these doctors and other healthcare workers going to come from? How are they going to be funded?
Yet another aspect of an ageing population that we are going to have to come to grips with…on a completely unrelated note, who has seen the movie Logan’s Run?
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.