Managed Care Outlook

AAMC: Physician shortage less severe than previously projected

The physician shortage isn’t going away but the gap between supply and demand may be smaller than previously predicted.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has revised projections it made in 2010. Instead of a shortage of 130,600 doctors by 2025, an association report published this year puts the shortage between 46,100 and 90,400.

Projected physician shortage

The association tweaked its forecast partly because the Census Bureau has revised its estimate of what the country’s population will be in 2025 to 347.3 million, down from 357.5 million. That decrease translates into lower projections of what the demand for doctors is likely to be.

Still, the association’s report says, the demand for physicians is expected to climb by between 11% and 17% over the next decade because of population growth and an aging American population.

Over the same period, the supply of physicians will increase by just 9% if factors affecting the size of the physician workforce don’t change.

But the report also tinkers with those factors and makes some interesting educated guesses about how they could affect the physician supply.

Projected supply of physicians under different scenarios

*Assumes passage of the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2013 and an increase in the number of residencies from 29,000 to 32,000.

**Assumes that physicians currently under age 35 will continue to work approximately 7% fewer hours per week relative to earlier cohorts.

For example, evidence suggests that physicians younger than 35 work fewer hours than their older counterparts. In aggregate, these shorter working hours shrink the supply of physicians, as measured in full-time equivalents (FTEs).

The association’s report does the math for a “millenial hours” scenario that assumes that doctors who are currently younger than 35 continue to work about 7% fewer hours per week than their elders. In that case, the FTE supply of physicians will increase by 5% instead of the 9% increase that would occur under the “status quo” assumptions, making the gap between the demand for physician services and supply larger.

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges, “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013 to 2025,” March 2015