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The United States Census estimates that the number of Americans over age 65 will grow by almost 10 percent by the year 2040, reaching 80 million. That’s 80 million Americans that, according to Fraser Research, will consume more than 70 percent of our healthcare resources. Are we prepared? Sadly, no. 

Depending on which source you choose, the shortage of physicians in the U.S. is forecast to be anywhere from 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034. That includes both primary and specialty care. 

Here’s another way to look at it: if the nation’s population (~332 million) was divided equally among the roughly 500,000 primary care physicians (PCPs), each of these doctors would be responsible for about 664 patients. That’s taking into account that Americans are the least likely out of residents of the world’s developed countries to have a regular doctor or a long-standing relationship with a PCP.  

The Lingering Labor Shortage 

This overall trend of a declining healthcare workforce was severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — especially for the frontline workers who’ve suffered through it. As we mentioned in a previous blog, this labor shortage has defied the expectations of economic experts, who now estimate that the problem will last for years due to quitting and retirements.  

Healthcare staff shortages are projected for every state by 2026. In that year, it’s estimated that  the U.S. will lack an estimated 3.2 million healthcare workers. Some states — North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia — are experiencing worse shortages than others. Mostly rural states — Utah, Vermont, Tennessee, and remote territories like Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — have the highest shortages in medical professionals per capita. 

Apart from the pandemic, physicians and other healthcare workers are dealing with burnout. Since the start of the pandemic, 60 to 75 percent of clinicians have reported symptoms of exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Physician shortages were a problem years before COVID-19 hit, though. The reason is fairly simple: an aging population is outgrowing aging physicians. There are not enough doctors to meet the increasing demand.

Though the explanation for the physician shortage is simple, the repercussions are not. Doctors are already stretched too thin by a heavy workload, long hours, and often a one-sided work-life balance. The resulting burnout is linked to lower patient satisfaction, higher malpractice risk, turnover — even suicide. With fewer active physicians, patients experience lengthy wait times, shorter visits with their doctor, and decreased access to timely preventive services. 

A Clearly Stated Problem 

No state in this country is exempt from the looming physician shortage. Every state, from Alaska to Florida, shows an increase in shortage ratio by 2030. There are three states forecast to have the largest ratio shortage by 2030: Mississippi, New Mexico, and Louisiana. That ratio is the physician shortage per 100,000 U.S. residents. 

Another way to look at this workforce shortage is by the number of Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), which are designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HPSAs can consist of geographic areas, populations, or facilities and must have a population-to-provider ratio of at least 3,500 to 1 to be considered. Currently, there are a total of 8,160 primary care HPSAs in the U.S. serving approximately 98 thousand individuals. To remove those designations, almost 17,000 practitioners would be needed. 

Primary Care Physician Shortage by State 

More than 80 percent of adults in this country had a visit with a doctor or other healthcare professional in the past year. That translates to nearly one billion physician office visits annually. 

To see how your state fares in the physician shortage conundrum, check out this list of rankings based on a quarterly summary of HPSA statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Health Workforce: 

Ranking of U.S. States by Number of HPSAs

  1. California: 626
  2. Texas: 411
  3. Missouri: 324
  4. Alaska: 301
  5. Florida: 279
  6. Michigan: 261
  7. Illinois: 245
  8. Georgia: 234
  9. Arizona: 217
  10. Washington: 200
  11. North Carolina: 189
  12. Kansas: 188
  13. Kentucky: 175
  14. Oklahoma: 173
  15. New York: 168 
  16. Minnesota: 158 
  17. Louisiana: 154
  18. Ohio: 150
  19. Mississippi: 148
  20. Oregon: 144
  21. Pennsylvania: 139
  22. Montana: 138
  23. Tennessee: 136
  24. Iowa: 132
  25. Colorado: 119
  26. Indiana: 117
  27. Virginia: 113
  28. West Virginia: 105
  29. Wisconsin: 105
  30. Alabama: 102 
  31. Idaho: 98
  32. New Mexico: 97
  33. South Dakota: 97
  34. South Carolina: 95
  35. Arkansas: 88
  36. North Dakota: 88
  37. Nebraska: 76
  38. Nevada: 72
  39. Maine: 69
  40. Utah: 64
  41. Massachusetts: 62
  42. Wyoming: 47
  43. Maryland: 45
  44. Connecticut: 41
  45. Puerto Rico: 39 
  46. New Jersey: 36
  47. Hawaii: 31
  48. New Hampshire: 27 
  49. District of Columbia: 15
  50. Vermont: 15
  51. Rhode Island: 14
  52. Delaware: 13

While the provider shortage trend suggests a dire future for healthcare, there are solutions already in motion to improve our supply of healthcare providers to meet future demand. There also are technologies available today to significantly improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare delivery.   

Putting Power in the Hands of Patients 

How can doctors continue to provide high-quality care when there seemingly aren’t enough of them to go around? How can your practice efficiently manage the influx of patients while maintaining high satisfaction and engagement levels? 

Consider putting the power in the hands of your patients. Give them access to digital health tools that enable them to navigate the system on their own to access the care they need, resulting in reduced time burdens on staff and clinicians. 

Enterprise-wide digital scheduling, for example, aligns network capacity and patient demand. And, it helps consumers to find and book appointments—virtual or in-person, with a provider or service—at a time and location most convenient to them without the need for staff assistance. 

Similarly, patient intake tools such as digital check-in can automate and improve the accuracy of visit registration information, such as detailed health histories, screeners, demographic information, and insurance coverage. The result is a complete patient health record before an exam, allowing for faster exams with less burden on the staff of your medical group.

Learn more! 

Check out our blog 4 Ways to Increase Your Patients’ Utilization of Digital Health Tools to find out how you can increase patient engagement at your practice!