In the next decade, the United States faces a shortage of approximately 40,000 primary care physicians, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. In 2013, the new Congress is expected to consider one strategy to help address this growing problem.
Last year, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced the Physician Reentry Demonstration Program Act, which focuses on bringing retired physicians back into active practice. In his bill, Sarbanes proposed launching a demonstration project under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to see how well this concept would work at hospitals and other healthcare organizations.
Under Sarbanes’ bill, these older physicians would need to undergo the usual credentialing procedures. If the demonstration project were to be enacted, evidence-based assessments and evaluation tools would be used to measure core competencies, in accordance with the guidelines of the Federation of State Medical Boards.
For physicians, one of the intriguing aspects of Sarbanes’ bill is that it provides greater flexibility for physicians to make their own career decisions. For instance, a doctor who has left a full-time clinical practice might enjoy practicing on a part-time basis, or taking advantage of flexible scheduling to take on a series of temporary positions.
Because aging Baby Boomers will require more healthcare services each year, the need for more primary care and specialized physicians will continue to rise for at least 15 more years. Therefore, the clock is ticking in terms of finding effective solutions to the shortage.
Other options include increasing the size of the nation’s medical schools, bringing in more foreign physicians or using physician assistants and nurse practitioners to handle more routine patient cases. In any case, U.S. healthcare organizations will need to exercise their ingenuity in finding sustainable solutions to this gap between demand and supply for physician services.