Is there really a rheumatologist shortage? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes. According to the American College of Rheumatology, demand for adult rheumatology care exceeded its supply by 36 percent in 2015. Unfortunately the gap is growing and is expected to grow wider in the future. By 2030, we will need about 4,133 additional rheumatologists to meet patient demand. For those who need rheumatologists, these are alarming statistics. So how did this happen, what does it mean for patients and what can we do to help?
Because of the baby boom, rheumatologists are retiring at the same time that there is a growing amount of arthritis patients. There are also a lot changing in regards to practice trends for new rheumatologists. These changes make it difficult to choose rheumatology as a career path. These facts from Everyday Health, help shed some light on why this shortage is happening.
- Baby boomers are hitting the age where they are seeing more arthritis symptoms, and there is more arthritis in general. This creates a demand for more
- Along with the demand, there is less of a supply. The rheumatologists who are baby boomers are predominantly male and are beginning to retire. The younger doctors coming into the field are mostly female. Women tend to see fewer patients per week because they are more likely to work part-time. Research also shows because of the time dedicated to each patient, the volume of patients seen is lower.
- Unfortunately, medical students graduate with a lot of debt. In addition, income for subspecialties such as rheumatology is very low compared with other specialties.
- There’s a lack of funding for teaching hospitals that train rheumatology residents.
What does this mean?
Unfortunately, this could mean a potential healthcare crisis. Rheumatology experts agree that early diagnosis and treatment mean better results for patients. A rheumatologist shortage means a delay in diagnosis and treatment.
How can we help?
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is working hard to educate Congress about this ongoing rheumatologist shortage. They are attempting to offer solutions that can improve care access for patients living with rheumatic diseases, explains Dr. Angus Worthing of the ACR Government Affairs Committee.
- Worthing also encourages us to “urge the Trump administration to reinstate the H-1B visa expedited review process to allow more international physicians to work in the United States. Almost half of rheumatology fellowships are filled by international medical school graduates, yet hospitals have difficulty recruiting rheumatologists from abroad because of the Administration’s recent suspension of expedited H-1B visa reviews.”
- Our leaders are more compelled to act if they see and hear how the public is affected. If you have had difficulty finding a rheumatologist in your area and this has impacted your health, share your story. Send an email to lawmakers today!
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