Since the Affordable Care Act was put into effect in 2010, over 16.4 million newly insured Americans have entered the healthcare system. This influx of patients has placed pressure on an already strained system, bringing to light the need for increased resources. One crucial resource: physicians.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the nation will face a shortage of up to 90,000 medical doctors by 2025. This shortage involves different categories of physicians, including primary care physicians, medical specialties, surgical specialties, and “other” specialties. Delving deeper into this national shortage of physicians is the challenge of an uneven geographic distribution, which highlights the underserved population in rural areas. These various needs have driven the healthcare community to search for innovative solutions -- and what’s more innovative than the field of telemedicine?
In a recent Telemedicine and E-health report, authors highlighted the importance of telemedicine in situations where physician resources are scarce, patient care is time sensitive, and service volume can be distributed across a network. Telemedicine has been identified as a method of alleviating the physician shortage because of its ability to increase provider utilization rate, provide access in rural areas, and widen the pool of available specialists.
Convenient for both the medical provider and the patient, telemedicine has ensured that physicians are using their valuable time most effectively. In addition to the efficiency of the doctors, the reach of their hand has expanded. Through telemedicine, rural areas have been given greater access to healthcare and even more importantly, specialized healthcare. Applications such as telestroke, tele-intensive care, and telebehavioral health have highlighted how telemedicine has been able to provide specialized care to patients who otherwise would have had limited or no access to the appropriate treatment.
According to the AAMC, telemedicine alone will not be enough. Their 2015 study has led to the following conclusion:
Addressing the shortage will require a multi-pronged approach, including innovation in delivery; greater use of technology; improved, efficient use of all health professionals on the care team; and an increase in federal support for residency training. The study’s results confirm that no single solution will be sufficient on its own to resolve physician shortages.
Though telemedicine may not have all of the answers to the physician shortage in the United States, it is an innovative use of technology and exactly what the healthcare system needs.