Wait times for doctors have been increasing, according to recent reports. doctor waiting roomThese wait time increases mean less access to doctors and healthcare services. This trend is being presented by some as evidence of a “looming shortage” in the US. Others have suggested that increasing wait times to see doctors is not because we don’t have enough doctors but because we don’t have the right kind of doctors (too many specialists), and that the doctors, we have are not in the right places (urban concentration). An article in the New York Times took a closer look at these issues.

Sources of doctors

Awareness of this issue has been heightened by recent attempts at travel bans, focusing primarily on Muslim countries. The suggestion is that the travel ban will further reduce numbers of doctors traveling to, or interested in medical study in the US.

The US has been increasing the number foreign-born doctors for many years. While some decry this trend, it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. Because of the demographics in the US and elsewhere, the “baby boomer” doctors are retiring, reducing available supply. doctor supply and demand

Uses of doctors

The good news, form many perspectives, is that the need for doctors to provide medical care across the population may be decreasing due, in part, to better health in advanced years. The elderly are the greatest consumers of medical care, and the leading edge of the baby boom “young old” are better educated and overall, healthier than previous generations.

What’s clear is that we do not properly utilize non-doctor personnel, like advanced practice nurses. And because we have litigious-wary healthcare systems, doctors are “required” to be involved in decisions and reviews which don’t add to, or improve care.

Reduced access & medical travel

A few years ago, we wrote a report for a UN Commission about the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act on medical travel. One of the variables examined is the wait times to see, or access doctors. Theoretically, the longer the wait times would motivate or “drive” consumers to seek more accessible attention outside the patient’s primary marketplace. It will be of great interest to providers and healthcare advocates to see if this trend does emerge.