In the next few years, U.S. healthcare organizations will need to consider new strategies to combat the increasing shortage of physicians. Among the possibilities are “sharing” physicians with other providers, engaging locum tenens physicians on an as-needed basis, and bringing older physicians back from retirement.
Recently, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced the Physician Reentry Demonstration Program Act, which would allow primary care doctors to return to practice at hospitals and clinics in a pilot project under the direction of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
While the act itself is given virtually no chance at passage in an election year, Sarbanes’ bill takes a creative approach to addressing this national healthcare issue, and raises some important questions about physician credentialing and competencies. To assist state regulatory authorities in determining if a retired physician could return to practice, Sarbanes’ proposal would require HHS to develop programs to help physicians reenter the field and create evidence-based assessments regarding competency. Those latter two steps – developing reentry programs and competency assessments – could be implemented in the future, regardless of the outcome of Sarbanes’ bill.
After all, the growing demand for medical services from aging Baby Boomers, and the relatively smaller size of the Gen X demographic segment means there will be a continuing shortage of experienced physicians in their 40s and 50s. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians expects the shortage of primary care physicians alone will reach 40,000 in the next decade.
In the meantime, hospitals, physician groups and other providers will need to rely on flexible approaches, such as locum tenens staffing, in order to accommodate the increase in demand for medical services.