From the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): by 2020, non-primary care specialties will face a shortage of 62,400 doctors. General surgery, ophthalmology, orthopedic surgery are expected to see the biggest changes. Others include urology, psychiatry and radiology.
What is causing these shortages?
- With the aging population requiring a specialist for chronic conditions, specialties including geriatrics, oncology and endocrinology are thinly spread among the population.
- 1 in 3 US physicians is over the age of 65 and close to retirement.
- The US population is increasingly growing.
- Medical residencies face a decrease in funding due to federal budget cuts.
How can telemedicine help?
Specialists can connect with hospitals, urgent care facilities and practices to allow for a wide variety of care. Before patients are referred to a remote location, consultations can be held in the original office to ensure that the suggested care is absolutely necessary.
Rural areas that face severe shortages can have access to care. Poor health has been linked to rural areas. This ranges from accident-related morality, individual independence, no access to emergency services, and shorter life expectancy.
Specifically with consultations and follow-up visits, telemedicine aids in patient convenience while offering everyone – no matter their geographical location – the care they deserve.
What does this model look like?
The actual model used to aid in specialist shortages can be approached in a number of ways:
- In-facility treatment: Most common in urban and suburban settings, urgent care facilities can be the middleman in connecting a patient and a specialist. A patient walks in, is greeted by an urgent care nurse, and is then connected to a remote specialist via HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing.
- At-home appointments: This scenario is convenient for all settings, but may be life-changing in rural areas. Patients meet with a provider right from their homes. Some states may require an initial in-person visit prior to telemedicine sessions.
- In-office referrals: If a patient requires a specialist, travel is not always necessary with telemedicine. A consultation can be held in the primary care physician’s office.