The U.S. healthcare system is facing a provider shortage that will result in shortages of up to 48,000 primary care physicians and up to 77,000 nonprimary care physicians, according to the American Medical Association.
Now, a recent Accenture report posits that the shortage is “unsustainable” and providers need to reinvent healthcare to manage its long-term impact.
The report explored several ways healthcare companies can work to reduce the negative impact of doctor shortages, from improving work experiences for employees to investing in AI-powered omnichannel connections.
“The long-term supply model is not sustainable in view of the demographic, personnel and competitive challenges,” write the authors of the report. “The industry simply cannot get out of this dilemma by having personnel hired and trained. To address the clinic shortage long term, changes must be made now to rethink work and the workforce, enable technology and transform the way care is delivered.”
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) considers areas of the United States that lack adequate clinical staffing levels as Health Care Skills Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. These locations typically lack primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers.
According to HRSA, nearly 100 million people in the US live in areas with a shortage of primary care, while as many as 160 million live in mental health care deserts.
Recently, lawmakers proposed legislation to address these bottlenecks, including bills that would specifically invest in mental health clinicians. However, not much is set in stone yet.
In the coming years, shortages are likely to worsen due to an aging workforce (colloquially referred to as the “silver tsunami”) and higher healthcare costs, Accenture said.
Experts say the bottlenecks are already causing patients to face longer wait times and more barriers to getting the care they need in a timely and efficient manner.
“The way it’s going to manifest is that people are going to have increasing difficulty accessing health care and accessing doctors,” said Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), told the AMA. “You’ve probably heard anecdotal stories where someone needed to see a specialist and it took them six to eight weeks to see a cardiologist or a GI specialist and I think access is becoming increasingly difficult.”
So how can healthcare leaders begin to transform healthcare to mitigate some of these impacts?
Accenture has outlined four key goals organizations can work toward, including improving work experiences for healthcare workers, increasing capacity by revamping team and work models, combining technology with human ingenuity, and leveraging digital technologies like the metaverse to improvement of care.
The first step is to draw attention to the mental and physical well-being of current healthcare workers. Physician burnout and stress have also reached high levels, fueled by the pandemic, and may be causing staff retention issues.
Previous Accenture research found that “meeting human needs” in the workplace can “unleash workers’ full potential,” meaning it’s important for companies to focus on making their employees happy.
This previous report also identified six aspects of wellbeing that leaders can develop for their employees — including financial, emotional and mental, relational, purposeful, employable, and physical.
However, the use of digital technology was also a key focus in Accenture’s recent report, particularly when it came to investing in things like the metaverse, which can extend physicians’ reach and “transcend time and space to simulate interactions or procedures.” how to practice surgical procedures,” the authors noted.
“Business as usual will no longer work when the clinician shortage reaches a critical point,” the authors concluded. “Once you accept that technology is a primary source of competitive advantage, enabling healthcare organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and breakthrough innovations, it can open new opportunities to accelerate growth and streamline operations.”