Stats show one in four Americans deals with multiple chronic conditions. The number rises to three in four aged 65 and older, according to the CDC. That means even more chronic illness, because the number of Americans over 65 is expected to increase from nearly 50 million today to almost 84 million by 2050.
All of this drives demand for healthcare. And meanwhile, the healthcare workforce is expected to dwindle.
An Older Healthcare Workforce
It’s not just patients who are aging. As the demand for healthcare professionals increases, the supply decreases. In 2015, 43 percent of U.S. physicians were 55 or older, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. It predicts that the United States will have a shortfall of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians.
The problem is simple: The number of new doctors isn’t keeping pace with a population that’s growing older and sicker.
“By 2030, the U.S. population of Americans aged 65 and older will grow by 55 percent, which makes the projected shortage especially troubling,” AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, said in a statement. “As patients get older, they need two to three times as many services, mostly in specialty care, which is where the shortages are particularly severe.”
Nurses Age Too
The percentage of nurses planning to retire in less than a year has gone up dramatically in just the last few years, from 16 percent in 2015 to 27 percent in 2017, according to the 2017 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses.
Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 439,000 new nursing jobs will be created by 2024. But by 2024, the agency expects 700,000+ nursing vacancies will be created through retirement.
Why It Matters to You
The obvious impact of having too few healthcare professionals is, of course, less access to needed care. When demand exceeds supply, some people may have trouble finding a physician. That’s already happening in many rural and other underserved areas around the country. The issue isn’t just long waits for appointments: In some areas, the nearest specialist may be hundreds of miles away.
Another potential problem is that the fewer doctors, nurses, etc. who are working will carry higher-than-optimal case workloads. That can lead to burnout and worse, medical errors.
So what’s being done? On the policy side, various efforts are underway in D.C. and elsewhere. And medical organizations are working to find solutions, too. None of that, however, will have an immediate impact on you. But there are changes being made that will — some that you already may be seeing in your practice.
The Changing Face of Healthcare
Here are four changes you can expect to see in how your care is delivered.
- Team-Based Care: Look for evolution to team-based care to continue and even accelerate. You may already see a physician assistant (PA) or a nurse practitioner (NP) during your regular checkup instead of your physician. If you don’t now, you will. The physician is in charge, but he or she doesn’t have to do everything–other members of the clinical staff are trained to handle much of the work. Too, in addition to physicians, nurses, PAs and NPs, look for other members to be included in your team, including case managers, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, exercise physiologists and others.
- Enhanced Behavioral health: Look for a greater focus on behavioral health in primary care settings. One reason is to address the shortage of psychiatrists and other behavioral health professionals. Another is the recognition that mind and body are connected. So, for instance, catching depression early may help address other issues, including those related to heart disease and obesity.
- Telemedicine and Video Consults:Over the last couple of years, patients have started having video consults. Expect to see more of that, especially if you need to see a specialist. For example, a dermatologist will be able to make an initial diagnosis remotely, saving time–and potentially costs, for everyone, including you, the patient.
- Apps with a Mission: Technology is also making it easier to monitor your health remotely. Companies have introduced hundreds of new gadgets that go far beyond counting steps, The Washington Postreports–and, really, they probably shouldn’t even be called gadgets. You may already be using some of these tools, such as a Holter monitor or blood pressure monitor that relays the information back to your healthcare team. But the possibilities are endless, according to the Post article: “You’ll soon be able to order new wearables for asthma management, back pain, and checking the impact on your knee, and your doctor will be able to prescribe patches that help them track indicators about your health.”
These are only a handful of the potential changes on the horizon. Perhaps the smartest thing you can do to prepare is take care of your health now, so you won’t be waiting in line when you’re really sick.
~ Health Scams Exposed