The demand for healthcare in the United States is projected to skyrocket over the next twenty years. As the Baby Boomers age, they will require more medical services.
Many countries already spend more than 20 percent of their GDP on healthcare. At the same time, there is an understaffing crisis in medicine. Rural areas, in particular, are underserved, with the primary care physician to patient ratio dipping to less than 40 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas.
Seth Whitmer, a healthcare expert based in Washington, examines this problem in detail, explaining how physician and nurse shortages and growing demand for care affect the healthcare landscape today.
An Aging Population
According to Seth Whitmer, The United States population is aging rapidly, with its median age projected to rise to 39 years by 2040. This means that half of the country’s population will be older than 40. As the population ages, there will be more demand for physicians and nurses. More geriatricians and long-term care facilities will be needed.
More Chronic Diseases
As the population ages, the rate of chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease will continue to rise, claims Seth Whitmer. Obesity is another epidemic that causes serious health conditions and leads to a greater demand for healthcare services. Demand for cardiologists, pulmonologists, and endocrinologists will rise along with the greater rate of these “lifestyle diseases.”
More Medical Advances
In a world where medical care is constantly developing, more patients will be able to receive highly advanced treatment. Many conditions which were fatal a matter of decades ago are now treatable. These conditions are costly to treat and require a great number of physicians and nurses.
For example, patients with advanced cancer are now treated with immunotherapy and targeted biologics. The demand for oncologists and specialist nurses will rise.
Fewer Medical School Graduates in Important Fields
Fueled in part by the crippling debt that goes along with enrolling in medical school, there are fewer medical school graduates to fill the available positions. The lag behind demand is particularly pronounced in the field of family medicine. Primary healthcare is one of the building blocks of a successful system, and patients who do not take advantage of preventative services become ill years later.
The United States population continues to grow at a faster rate than medical student graduates. The United States population grew by 0.62 percent between 2017 and 2018, the latest year available. Keeping up with this gradual population growth has become more difficult.
Certain states, such as those in the Mountain West, are experiencing a large influx of population while Eastern states are losing population. Losing population does not mean that the demand for medical services goes down since the aging population requires more services.
More Health Education
The general public has become more knowledgeable and better-informed about their health. As these patients use more health services, the demand for healthcare will rise. When patients take responsibility for their medical care, they will use more resources.
Demand Exceeds Supply
As the population grows and ages, there is more demand for healthcare services. Patients are living longer than ever before, and many diseases that were once fatal are now chronic and manageable.
The area where physician shortages are making the most impact is primary care. Primary care doctors are the gatekeepers to other specialties, and they are vital to a healthy system.
Seth Whitmer encourages young people to consider going into the medical fields, meeting the increased demands of the decades to come.