The number of medical doctors nationwide and locally is decreasing at an alarming rate. By 2034, there will be a shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians and a shortage of 21,000 to 77,100 non-primary care physicians nationwide. Those figures are from The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2019 to 2034 — a report by the American Association of Medical Colleges.
“Imagine walking into an emergency room in your moment of crisis — in desperate need of a physician’s care — and finding no one there to take care of you,” said Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, president of the American Medical Association, in a speech on Oct. 25, 2023, at the National Press Club. “That is what we are up against.”
Ehrenfeld spoke of a growing national crisis caused by a physician shortage. He listed administrative burdens, burnouts, a broken Medicare payment system, attacks on science and increased consolidation across the medical profession as reasons for the crisis. Ehrenfeld also said that nearly half of all doctors are over 55, and medical school enrollments cannot make up for retiring physicians. He said doctors spend two hours on paperwork for every one hour with a patient. He also blamed the shortage of doctors on shrinking Medicare reimbursement for physicians.
While admitting that causes for the physician shortage are complex and there is no quick, easy fix, Ehrenfeld recommended five steps to help with the doctor shortage. He recommended increased Medicare reimbursements to doctors, reducing administrative burdens on doctors, passing of legislation that would expand residency training options, provide greater student loan support and make things easier for foreign trained physicians, stopping the criminalizing of health care that is widely recognized as safe and making sure physicians are not punished for taking care of their mental health needs.
Although she had no statistics on shortages of medical professionals in El Paso County, Natalie Myers, chief executive officer of El Paso County Medical Society, said there is a definite shortage of doctors in the local area and the cause mirrors the reasons for the nationwide shortage. Myers said that one of the main reasons for doctor shortages is burnout due in part to the increasing administrative burden on doctors. She said that more and more local medical practices are being bought by big corporations. Some physicians retire early rather than being limited in their practice by the restrictions of larger corporations.
“They walk away because of stress,” Myers said. She said the current state of the medical profession puts a mental burden on doctors that sometimes drives them to suicide. Myers said there is a limited number of mental health professionals that deal with the care of doctors.
“It comes down to money,” Myers said, when asked about possible remedies to the situation. She said it costs more for physicians to provide medical care than it did in the past. She said that legislation could help and also suggested looking at cost saving opportunities.