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Got Docs?

October 19, 2010
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Time to prepare for dramatically increased physician shortages

A new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that shortages of physicians—based on projections from the Center for Workforce Studies—will be 50 percent worse than originally anticipated prior to the passage of comprehensive federal healthcare reform. With 32 million more Americans acquiring health insurance coverage, the report says, expect a wave of demand for patient care services.

Indeed, says the report, between now and 2015, the year after some of the most important health insurance reforms are scheduled to take effect, the shortage of doctors across all specialties will quadruple. The association says its previous estimate of a nationwide shortage of 39,600 physicians will more likely approach a shortage of 63,000, with a shortage of 33,100 physicians in such specialties as cardiology, oncology, and emergency medicine.

That’s a heckuva lot of waiting time for patients waiting to see their cardiologists, oncologists, et al, and for patients waiting to be seen in emergency departments nationwide.

What’s clear in all this is that the physicians who are now practicing—not to mention the nurses and other allied health professionals, as well—will have to become ever more time-efficient, simply to keep up with the increased patient load. And that means increased automation in every area of office-based practice and hospital care delivery.

Electronic ordering in CPOE-based systems is going to have to be made incredibly efficient; and voice recognition-based dictation/transcription systems are going to have to be flawless and super-easy to use.

Physician documentation and nursing documentation are going to have to be extremely intuitive and user-friendly; and PACS and RIS systems are going to have to provide doctors, and everyone else, with the fastest access to images and information, and easiest ability to share data and images, possible.

The bottom line here? The single most precious, most irreducible resource in healthcare delivery is the time of the practicing physician, because nothing else can substitute for it. And, since our healthcare system will be time-strapped for the foreseeable future, the need to support physicians, and allied professionals for that matter, in their workflow, will only intensify, with the increased patient care demand rolling towards us all. In other words: it’s time now to build and optimize the systems that will make the most of clinicians’ time—just to keep up, not to mention improving their perpetual time deficits.

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