Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Physician Shortage 2025, Is There Anything to Fear?

The University of Missouri researchers predict that in just about 16 years from now, the US would be lacking medics by a count of 44,000 family physicians and general internists.

Their concerns seem to be grave when you consider that about 50% of all visits to doctors are to physicians. In fact shortage of healthcare workers exists in many parts of the world.

Healthcare Workers Around The World

The number of healthcare workers has been estimated to be about 59 million the world over, and ironically most of them reside in regions and places where they're least needed. For instance, the North American continent, accounts for only 10% of the Global burden of disease, but is home to 37% of the world’s healthcare workers. Not only that but it also spends about 50% of the world's financial resources for health. The following figure shows the details.

On the contrary, the African continent is mired with 24% of the global burden of disease, has only only 3% of the world's health workers, and spends a meager 1% of world's financial resources.

The World Health Organization estimates the shortage of healthcare workers (viz doctors, nurses, midwives) worldwide. The are about 57 countries in the world with the shortage of medics and 37 of those are from Africa. The best state of affairs exists in Europe, where there isn't a shortage. The American continent ranks next, with about 5 countries facing shortage. Take a look at the numbers below.

So is there anything to fear?

To me it appears that there's no need to worry, because the researchers have not only apprised about the impending shortage well in advance (over 16 years), but have also identified the reasons for it, and have even recommended possible solutions.

For instance, inducing more incentives for primary care practitioners would make their “specialty” more rewarding, and would encourage more graduates to fill in the gaps.

Increasing The Number of Doctors:
Aside from increasing the number of graduates, the demand would perhaps also be met by influx of doctors from other countries to the US.

Increased Access through Technology and Alternatives:
Organized groups of medics would be able to handle the caseload through telephone, e-mail and electronic medical records. Recently, pharmacists in Canada were allowed to write prescriptions, reducing the patients need to visit doctor frequently. Perhaps, similar measures of training medics other than doctors could help. In fact, psychologists (who're not doctors) were allowed to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs in New Mexico, back in 2002.

On the whole, the projections might be startling for sure, but since the causes and solutions are known, with so much time to spare, there's a need to be concerned but not be worried.

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