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Like Many Specialties, Vascular Surgery is Facing a Physician Shortage

Posted by Anonymous at 10/20/2017 11:28:40 AM

The Physician Shortage and Vascular Surgery

Vascular Surgery and the Physician Shortage

 By Phillip Miller

When the topic of physician shortages arises, much of the attention goes to the dearth of primary care doctors – family physicians, general internists and pediatricians. There is a good reason for this. Demand for these types of doctors is extremely high while the supply is limited.

In 2017, family medicine was Merritt Hawkins most requested type of search assignment for the 11th year in a row, while internal medicine has been either second or third for 10 consecutive years. According to Merritt Hawkins’ 2017 Survey of Final-Year Medical Resident, 55% of primary care doctors receive 100 or more recruiting offers during their training, underscoring the acute demand for these types of physicians.

But it is a mistake to believe shortages are confined to primary care. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects there will be up to 104,900 too few doctors by 2030, including 43,100 too few primary care doctors but also including 61,800 too few specialists. Demand for specialists will be driven by patient demographics, as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, most of whom will need specialists to care for ailing organs, bones, nervous systems, and psyches. Advances in medical technology and consumer preference for the most cutting edge care also will fuel demand for specialists.

Vascular surgery is just one of many specialties facing physician shortages that currently are flying under the radar. There are only several thousand of these specialists in the United States who take care of the circulatory system, while there are some 100 million people in the U.S. who are at risk for vascular disease, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery. More specialists will be needed to address vascular conditions from strokes to varicose veins, but the supply of vascular surgeons remains limited. An article in the Journal of Vascular Surgery indicates there will be an 11.6% deficit of vascular surgeons by 2030

The same point could be made for many other medical specialties. Merritt Hawkins conducts more searches for family physicians than for any other type of doctor, but that is in part a function of the fact that family physicians are comparatively numerous. Calculated by the number of searches Merritt Hawkins conducts relative to the total number of physicians in a given specialty, it could be argued that pulmonologists are in even greater demand than family physicians (see Merritt Hawkins’ 2017 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives).

Those who have tried to make an appointment with a specialist lately can corroborate this trend. According to Merritt Hawkins 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times, the average time to schedule a new patient appointment with a dermatologist is 32 days, up from 29 days in 2014. In Philadelphia, the average wait time to see a derm is 78 days.

Breakthroughs in diagnostic technology and the increased use of physician assistants and nurse practitioners can help address shortages in primary care, but are less likely to reduce the need for specialists. Healthcare delivery systems that emphasize prevention and population health may inhibit the utilization of specialty care at some points in a patient’s life, but ultimately our body parts wear out and require specialists to heal or to maintain. We can’t manage our way out of that fact. The nation is going to need more specialists. We should reduce the caps on residency programs and begin training them now.

Merritt Hawkins’ white paper Physician Supply Considerations: The Emerging Shortage of Specialists offers more detail about physician specialty shortages and I would be happy to email readers a copy of this resource.

Phillip Miller is Vice President of Communications for Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care, companies of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached here.

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