There’s already a doctor shortage (and a shortage of medical professionals overall) and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s estimated that by 2032, the United States will see a shortfall of up to 122,000 physicians.
Past projections have ranged from 46,900 to 121,900. The reasons for this shortage are complex, numerous, and multifaceted, so there isn’t an easy solution that can instantly get rid of the problem.
However, new technologies are emerging that could negate some of these factors—or at least minimize their overall impact. Let’s look at some of the major influencing factors in the burgeoning doctor shortage, and which new technologies could help in mitigating their effects.
The Bottleneck Of Medical Training
There are problems on both the supply side and the demand side of the equation; in other words, we’re facing a doctor shortage both because the number of available medical professionals is decreasing and because the need for more medical professionals is rising.
On the supply side, one of the biggest factors is the bottleneck presented by the demands of medical training. To become a physician, one must typically spend 4 years getting an undergraduate degree, an additional 4 years in medical school, and then something like 3 to 7 years in residency training to be qualified to practice. That’s something like 11 to 15 years of education and training.
This is problematic in part because it’s discouraging to new people who might be considering a medical career. They don’t want to spend the next 15 years of their life undergoing difficult training, and it’s hard to blame them. Fortunately, new technologies could be making things easier—making medical education more accessible and convenient while simultaneously increasing its effectiveness.
For example, simulations and video training are allowing students to practice their skills in a realistic, yet low-stakes setting. When implemented properly, this can decrease training time, improve outcomes, and provide a more appealing environment to people uncertain about their future.
Morale And Burnout
Burnout is notoriously common in the healthcare industry. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are routinely dealing with high-stress situations, attempting to save patients’ lives while managing complex responsibilities and extremely busy schedules. Despite being extremely rewarding when things go right, there are many sources of stress in the industry.
While there isn’t much in the way of technology specifically trying to address this problem, there are ways that tech could ameliorate the situation. Wearable devices could make it easier to track factors like heart rate and blood pressure, alerting physicians to when they’re feeling overstressed. And in the distant future, automated programs could take over at least some minor medical responsibilities, reducing their workload and allowing them to focus on the most important matters.
An Aging Population
On the demand side, the biggest factor responsible for the doctor shortage is an aging population. Thanks to advancing medical knowledge, people are living to much older ages. Combined with the fact that baby boomers are now reaching their elder years, it’s estimated that the geriatric population could number 2.1 billion by 2050.
Older people have more frequent and more intense medical needs, tying up resources in an already strained system. Unfortunately, there isn’t much technology can do to resolve this problem, since technology is partially responsible for creating it in the first place.
However, the introduction of remote healthcare could significantly reduce the number of appointments required by older individuals, and the time taken up by those appointments. Remote monitoring and automated monitoring, too, could reduce this burden.
Obesity And Chronic Health Problems
The obesity epidemic, along with its related chronic health problems (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure) is also increasing the public’s need for doctors. Again, technology may not have a direct answer to this problem.
Apps that improve public education and those that facilitate healthier habits could, over the course of decades, improve long-term health outcomes. But in the meantime, remote monitoring and remote appointments could help address rising demand in this area.
Rural And Underserved Areas
The doctor shortage is not equally distributed across the country; some areas have plenty of healthcare providers, while rural and impoverished areas suffer the brunt of the shortage. Remote healthcare could address this problem directly, provided the intended patients can afford an internet connection.
New gadgets, new training methods, and better ways of communicating might stave off some of the worst effects of the coming physician shortage, but they aren’t going to work any miracles. In addition to developing and supporting new technology, the healthcare industry is going to need to introduce some major changes if it’s going to come close to meeting demand over the next few decades.
If you are interested in even more technology-related articles and information from us here at Bit Rebels, then we have a lot to choose from.