By Alan Portner
DC Public Policy Examiner
WASHINGTON (January 22, 2010) – Need to see your primary physician? If you live in one of America’s 15 largest metropolitan areas, an appointment slot will open up for you in an average of 20.3 days. Washington area patients wait an average of 30 days for appointments
Similar wait times are typical for specialty doctors. According to a 2009 survey by a Dallas medical staffing firm, appointment wait times for Cardiology, Dermatology, Orthopedic, Gynecological, or Family Practice services averaged 20.5 days across surveyed specialties in all surveyed cities.
The obvious conclusion is: America does not have enough physicians.
According to The Commonwealth Fund, the median number of practicing physicians in similar (OECD) countries per thousand of population is 3.2. As of 2004, America had only 2.4 doctors per thousand residents.
The World Health Organization said that America had 730,801 licensed physicians in 2009. Of these, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) identified 252,000 doctors (in 2005) who would surpass retirement age within ten years.
Medical residencies and fellowships:
At currently funded graduate education levels for medical residents, the AAMC says that 24,735 new doctors enter practice each year. Assuming normal physician retirement patterns and zero population growth, America will have roughly 5,000 fewer doctors in 2020 than practice now.
America will not, however, have zero population growth through 2020 and Americans (as a group) are aging. According to U.S. Census estimates, America’s population will grow by about 12 percent to 340 million residents in ten years. The senior population will grow from about 36 million in 2004 to 45 million in 2020 and to 71 million in 2030. Not surprisingly, people need to see their doctors much more often as they age and body parts wear out.
If you believe it takes too long to get an appointment for non-urgent care today, the short term future may be much, much worse.
Next: Medical colleges lobby for more graduate medical education support
Al Portner is a former daily newspaper editor and publisher in seven states and author of the forthcoming “Mark Twain and the Tale of Grant’s Memoir.” His company, The Assignment Desk, LLC, maintains a network of writers, editors, and photographers for contract projects ranging from proposals and speeches to public relations and journalism. Reach him at [email protected]
Copyright 2010 – Alan C. Portner
For more info:
Merritt Hawkins 2009 Physician waiting time for appointment survey
Commonwealth Fund 2006 statistical analysis.
Numbers of Physicians as ranked by the World Health Organization 2009
Help Wanted – More U.S. Doctors