What's behind the growing physician shortage

January 6, 2014

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

More than 27 percent of physicians in the US are over 60 years of age. Women, who now constitute 35 percent of physicians in active practice, have delivered 22 to 33 percent fewer services than male physicians, since they tend to work fewer hours.

Fifty percent of the medical students at my school, The Frank Netter School of Medicine, are women. This is a stated "mission" of our admissions process and a trend across the country, according to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) data.

So in the immediate future we will be replacing close to one-third of actively practicing physicians with an increasing percentage of doctors who historically work fewer hours.

Despite the startup of about 22 new medical schools, we will not come close to replacing the physicians nearing retirement age, not to mention the looming "work hour gap."

As a physician, this is great news. I have little fear of forced retirement or job insecurity. The law of supply and demand will provide an unlimited supply of patients and upward pressure on physician income, despite all the machinations of insurance companies and government to "control costs."

As an entrepreneur, this is even better news. Big problems create big opportunities for those with the insight and courage to take them on.

As a member of society and sometimes patient looking at the future prospect of geriatric care, it is increasingly cause for concern. Medicine as we know it is becoming more "disrupted" (most entrepreneurs love this; most doctors do not).

One of the questions I ask prospective medical students during their admissions interviews is how they would solve this problem.

My own answer is that we need to do more to retain one of our most valuable resources: licensed, trained, and experienced physicians. Rather than forcing them into retirement with increasingly onerous burdens like the "malpractice" lottery, increased bureaucracy, and computerized medical (really billing) records, we need to ask how we can keep them in practice longer. A little tort reform and administrative assistance might go a long way to making medical practice more tolerable (perhaps even enjoyable), not to mention more efficient and cost effective.

In the meantime, while society waits for solutions to drop from the sky (or come from Washington "“ equally likely in my opinion), First Stop Health is working hard to solve YOUR medical problems. Check us out at www.fshealth.com.

Originally published Jan 6, 2014 10:00:00 AM.