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As Future Physician Shortages Loom, Decreasing Burnout is More Essential than Ever
There’s no question that healthcare workers have been pushed to the brink for years. From an out-of-whack work-life balance, to documentation demands to other requirements that limit the time they can spend with each patient, there are a myriad of reasons why these frontline workers are struggling to keep their heads above water. Add in a global pandemic and it gets worse. And now many are beginning to have second thoughts on the healthcare career paths they have chosen.
That reality is exposed in The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2019-2034, a recent study conducted and published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which estimates a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians in the United States by 2034.
In its announcement of the study’s publication, AAMC claims the physician shortage was forecasted even before the pandemic began—but is being magnified now that burnout is at an all-time high.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to health care services and exposed vulnerabilities in the healthcare system,” said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD. “The pandemic has also underscored the vital role that physicians and other healthcare providers play in our nation’s healthcare infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America’s needs.”
In May 2021, Dr. Skorton was asked to testify in a congressional hearing about the dire healthcare workforce shortage. In his testimony, he cited the issue of increased physician burnout could cause doctors and other clinicians to cut back their hours or accelerate their plans for retirement.
The AAMC report also highlights the role that patient demographics (specifically, population growth and aging) play in the mounting physician shortage, indicating that from 2019 to 2034, “The U.S. population is projected to grow by 10.6 from about 328 million to 363 million, with a projected 42.4% increase in those aged 65 and above. Therefore, demand for physician specialties that predominantly care for older Americans will continue to increase.”
Action Needed to Stem the Shortage of Physicians
So, what can slow the shortage before it becomes a full-fledged fiasco for clinicians and patients alike? While less can be done about population increases, addressing burnout head-on can—and should—be tackled sooner than later.
Undoubtedly, getting ahold of burnout before its impact becomes even more catastrophic is an essential first step, which means understanding the factors that contribute to it. These challenges were explored in this article published in Dermatology Times, citing research from Medical Economics. Not surprisingly, administrative burdens and paperwork, two factors that go hand-in-hand with burnout, were considered the top challenges for 2021.
The article states, “In countless surveys and studies, and across specialties, physicians consistently cite the time and energy they must devote to filling out forms and other administrative tasks near or at the top of their list of grievances. The mantra repeatedly heard throughout the profession is, ‘This isn’t why I went into medicine.’”
While decreasing physician burnout is multi-faceted and no small task, it may be beneficial for system administrators to take note of what clinicians are saying and do their best to find solutions before it’s too late. To prevent a future shortage of our nation’s most essential employees, action is required now—and it begins with alleviating burnout.
Physicians Angels is the industry’s first virtual scribe company, providing real-time documentation directly into the physician’s EMR, along with Virtual Back Office services. Our services save the physician an average of 10 hours per week, thereby improving patient throughput and contributing to a better work/life balance for the physician and office staff. To learn more, visit physiciansangels.com or contact us.