According to a new report from Definitive Healthcare, almost 150,000 healthcare providers left the workforce between 2021 and 2022 — and more may follow as providers near retirement age, face high levels of burnout, and more.
For the report, Definitive Healthcare examined medical claims data based on the number of providers billing each year during July and August 2022. The data was later updated in July 2023 to account for providers who may have left in 2021 and have now returned to practice again.
Overall, an estimated 145,213 healthcare providers left the workforce between the beginning of 2021 and the end of 2022. Physicians made up most of these departures at 71,309, followed by nurse practitioners at 34,834.
The healthcare specialties most impacted by departures were internal medicine, family practice, clinical psychology, psychiatry, pediatric medicine, optometry, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, obstetrics/gynecology, and general surgery. According to Definitive Healthcare, these 10 specialties made up around 46,000 physician departures between 2021 and 2022.
These departures have contributed to widespread staffing shortages at hospitals across the country. According to data from HHS and Becker's Hospital Review, states where hospitals are experiencing the most critical staffing shortages include South Carolina (26.6%), Maryland (24%), Michigan (17.3%), Delaware (10%), and Virginia (9.6%).
The growing departure of healthcare workers has also negatively impacted patient care. In a 2022 report from Survey Health Global (SHG) and Apollo Intelligence, 34% of physicians worldwide said they observed an increase in medical errors and attributed them partly due to staffing shortages and constant stress. Other research has also found that poor mental health and burnout can contribute to medical errors and reduce patient safety.
Ongoing staffing shortages are also worsening patient experience and quality of care. In the SHG/Apollo report, respondents said that shortages led to longer wait times for patients or outright diagnosis and treatment delays. Thirty percent of respondents also said these delays increased patients' suffering and negatively impacted their health.
In the future, more healthcare professionals are expected to leave the workforce, especially as many near retirement age. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, almost 45% of doctors are older than 55, and more than 40% will be 65 or older in the next 10 years.
Some of the physician specialties facing a potential wave of retirement include adult medicine, general practice, psychology, adolescent medicine, addiction medicine, occupational medicine, preventive medicine, urology, otolaryngology, and cardiology. The average age of providers in these specialties is 55 or older.
More physicians are also experiencing burnout, which can impact their mental health and push them to leave the workforce. Based on a survey of over 9,000 physicians in late 2022, Medscape found that the specialties with the most burnout were emergency medicine (65%), internal medicine (60%), pediatrics (59%), obstetrics/gynecology (58%), and infectious diseases (58%).
To combat the ongoing healthcare staffing shortages and their related challenges, Definitive Healthcare outlined three recommendations in its report:
1. Invest in telehealth
Using telehealth and remote patient monitoring technology can help reduce providers' administrative burden by allowing them to collect and understand patient data more easily. Telehealth has also been associated with reduced facility operating costs and lower readmission rates.
2. Reduce burnout among healthcare workers
Hospitals and healthcare facilities can combat burnout among workers by investing in programs that promote mental and behavioral health through education and training. It is also important to have best practices to help prevent stigma shaming and suicide.
The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which became law in March 2022, provides healthcare facilities with grants to assist with their efforts to support healthcare workers' mental health and well-being.
3. Expand graduate medical education (GME) programs
Currently, the availability and capacity of GME programs are capped by Medicare, which can negatively affect hospitals in rural areas. Raising the cap can help the healthcare industry diversify and expand its workforce while also offering providers additional training to better prepare them for the next pandemic.
"The past few years have shown the undeniable importance of healthcare workers," Definitive Healthcare writes. "… Resolving the healthcare staffing shortage will require leaders and policymakers to be more ambitious to not only improve the health of patients but also improve the well-being of the hardworking people who serve them." (Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 10/16; Kacik, Modern Healthcare, 10/16; Definitive Healthcare report, accessed 10/17)
Leaders are searching for new solutions to support clinicians and fill staffing gaps at their organizations in the face of clinician burnout and labor shortages. It can be daunting to identify and understand all the technologies available to address workforce challenges. These comparison charts serve as a resource for leaders to quickly index the state of workforce technology and how it can benefit their organizations.
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