A crisis seems to be brewing when it comes to providing care for our senior citizens. According to a US News article written by Magaly Olivero, we have 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day.
By the year 2030, the US Census Bureau projects the largest senior population in our history with 31 million Americans living to be 75 or older.
If this trend continues without enough geriatricians and nurses available, we are in for some frightening times ahead.
According to Kara Lofton's research, Jeff Goldberg, a West Virginia geriatrician, believes his state needs health care providers to care for the elderly, and like the rest of America, they need more physicians to treat seniors. We need physicians who specialize in treating older adults, as well as, nurses, physical therapists and psychologists who are trained and experienced in caring for our elderly population. Goldberg says our current workforce is not equipped or prepared to deal with the tidal wave of elderly people, the looming silver tsunami.
The Association for American Medical Colleges has a different opinion on the physician shortage. While geriatrics receives high marks for career satisfaction, it is not a particularly popular area of interest. There are very few medical students who choose geriatric medicine and that puts the future of geriatricians at risk.
Dr. Mitchell Heflin of Duke University's School of Medicine said, “People are called to geriatrics”. Heflin added, that it's a specialty unlike most specialties where the more training you receive the less you make financially. Economics plays a major role, especially with physicians having to payoff sizable student loan debt.
Apparently another stumbling block for geriatric physicians who treat seniors, most of the time their patients normally pay using Medicaid and Medicare which have lower reimbursements rates than private health insurance companies.
One additional hurdle, it takes a physician considerable time visiting and working with older adults. Typically, it takes twice as long managing elderly patients, which cuts into reimbursement levels.
In the 21st century with improved health care, technology upgrades and a more health conscious population, Americans are living longer and a demand for quality care is on the rise. With our aging society, we need to help manage seniors chronic conditions, from hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis to dementia.
Within 15 years, our 65-plus segment will make up 20% of our nations population.
Currently, we have more than 7,500 certified geriatricians across the U.S., but according to the American Geriatrics Society, we need 17,000 to care for our 12 million older Americans. AGS's statistics show 30% of the 65-plus population will need a geriatrician, and that one physician can care for 700 patients.
Sadly, it appears the projections for adequately trained physicians to assist our elderly population are bleak at best and are expected to get worse. By the year 2030, one in five Americans will be eligible for Medicare, the government health insurance for those 65 and over. The American Geriatrics Society estimates that to meet the demand, medical schools would have to train at least 6,250 additional geriatricians between now and 2030, or about 450 more a year than the current rate.
With the 65 plus population projected to expand to record numbers in the coming years, health care systems have to ask some difficult questions and determine how they plan on equipping themselves to care for our aging citizens.