Recent studies point to an increased demand for medical specialists, including anesthesiologists, in the coming years and decades. Reports from the American Association of Medical Colleges and recruitment firm Merritt Hawkins offer thoughts on the implications of these findings for anesthesia medical groups and practitioners.
Is there an impending shortage of anesthesiologists, as various reports have suggested over the past several years?
A 2010 study by the RAND Corporation, commissioned by the ASA, projected a shortage of nearly 4,500 anesthesiologists by 2020, assuming an annual growth in demand of 1.6 percent, or a shortage as high as 12,500, assuming three percent annual growth to account for an aging population. “The projected shortage of anesthesiologists suggests that this country will soon face a gap in anesthesiology services that is just as important to Americans’ health as the projected physician gap for primary care services,” said Mark A. Warner, MD, ASA president-elect at the time of the study’s release.
Although the ASA has not reported on whether those predictions are coming to fruition, a recent study by recruitment firm Merritt Hawkins offers new evidence for this trend. While demand for primary care physicians remains high, healthcare organizations are increasingly looking for specialists, according to the report.
“It is a mistake to believe that physician shortages are confined to primary care. Specialists also are in short supply,” said the company’s senior vice president, Travis Singleton. Anesthesiologists were on the report’s list of the top 20 most requested recruitment searches. In addition, a recent report published by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) points to a potential shortfall of 33,800 to 72,700 physicians across the specialties by 2030, with anesthesia specialitsts certainly falling into that group.
Changing demographics are driving the increased demand. In just over a decade, the number of Americans in the 65-and-older age bracket will have mushroomed by 50 percent, compared with only three percent for those under the age of 18, the study observes. It further asserts that the rapid aging of the population is likely to impact physician supply as well, because one-third of all currently practicing physicians will be older than 65 within the next 10 years.
Other Key Findings
The explosion in the number of older Americans relative to younger age groups will fuel demand for medical services used by seniors. In our view, it’s not a stretch to see that this is likely to include a growing demand for surgical, and, by extension, anesthesia services. Population health efforts may increase the long-term demand for physicians. But the increased life span associated with these health improvements could also lead to growth in the need for medical services by 2030.
Increased access to healthcare would increase the demand for physicians. Modeling of the impact of effectively removing current barriers to care (through increased healthcare coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act) reveals that demand for physicians could rise substantially.
Implications for Providers and Groups
What does all of this mean for your anesthesia group and for you as an individual anesthesia specialist? Depending on your perspective, where you are in your career and other factors, the glass can be half full or half empty.
One thing we know is that people are living longer, and that the aging baby boom population will create a wave of patients that will require services for the foreseeable future. Regardless of which model is used, these demographic realities will significantly impact the healthcare landscape, including the delivery of anesthesia care.
But we also know that, in general, people with higher levels of education are beginning to delay retirement beyond the traditional age of 65 or 66. This includes physicians who will choose to stay in practice and work longer. This “new normal” could reduce the physician shortage.
Consider the State of Our Specialty Today… and for the Future
Earlier this year, the ASA Strategic Dialogue Summit brought together more than 40 anesthesiologists from private, corporate, and academic practice, both ASA loyalists and outsiders. Some who practiced clinical anesthesia every day; others that haven’t touched an anesthesia machine in years.
The meetings provided an opportunity to speak candidly about the specialty of anesthesiology:
- What threatens the specialty?
- Are current payment models stifling progress, and what can be done?
- How will new technologies make us obsolete or help us work smarter?
- Are we training too many anesthesiologists, or should we train more?
- How should training be revised to meet the needs of the future?
- What disruptive innovations are just over the horizon?
These questions should be considered by all of us, as we think about our profession and where we are going from here.
If you’re a new provider just starting out, the current predictions bode well for your future professional outlook, but they also suggest the importance of taking steps to ensure that you do not become overworked and burned out if your facilities do not have enough qualified anesthesiologists to provide adequate coverage.
Anesthesiologist Supply and Demand: Trends Within the Specialty. anesthesiallc.com
Brave New World? Anesthesiology in 2018. apennedpoint.com