Physician Specialty Shortage – Including Radiologists – Continues to Climb

July 5, 2020

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the specialist shortfall could swell to nearly 42,000 by 2033.

By 2033, the United States could have a shortfall of nearly 42,000 radiologists and other clinical specialists, according to a newly released analysis.

This new data, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) puts the physician shortage close to 139,000 – a deficit significantly higher than the 91,500 predicted for the country by 2020. This is the AAMC’s sixth staffing trend evaluation.

“The gap between the country’s increasing healthcare demands and the supply of doctors to adequately respond has become more evident as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said AAMC President and CEO David Skorton, M.D. “The challenge of having enough doctors to serve our communities will get even worse as the nation’s population continues to grow and age.”

Watching this trend – and taking steps to combat it – can be critical. According to the results of a 2019 AAMC public opinion survey, prior to the pandemic, 35 percent Americans were already reporting they had had trouble during the past three years finding a doctor. That is a 10-percent jump since 2015, based on the AAMC report.

To pinpoint the potential physician shortage, London-based research firm IHS Markit examined various supply-and-demand scenarios, adding in various types of updated healthcare delivery and workforce data, including current physician work hours and retirement trends. Based on their analysis, they forecast an overall shortage of non-primary care specialties of between 33,700 and 86,700. Of that, the predicted shortage of “other specialties,” including radiology, pathology, and psychiatry, was between 17,100 and 41,900. No data radiology-specific data was provided.

The primary drivers for the shortage continue to be physician retirement and an increased push for greater access to care. To handle these changes, as well as to address the ever-growing need for providers, many facilities, particularly those hardest hit by the shortage, have turned to a “patchwork of solutions” to bolster their resources, Skorton said. Some areas have embraced expanding scope-of-practice laws, graduating students early from medical school, hiring physicians out of retirement, and relocating providers from other geographic locations.

The AAMC did call out medical innovation as one trend in medicine that could off-set others pushing the industry toward a shortage, particularly among radiologists.

“Advances in artificial intelligence could improve the productivity of radiologists, pathologists and others in detecting and diagnosing cancers and other medical conditions, possibly leading to a lower demand for these physicians to care for the existing population,” the AAMC report authors said. “However, increasing longevity by reducing cancer deaths and other preventable deaths means more physicians will be needed in the future to care for the larger population still living – many of whom have chronic conditions to be managed.”