Home Health and Fitness Inadequate Number of Specialists to Meet the Growing Demand for Elderly Care

Inadequate Number of Specialists to Meet the Growing Demand for Elderly Care

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Inadequate Number of Specialists to Meet the Growing Demand for Elderly Care

The Decline of Geriatric Medicine: A Looming Crisis

The Geriatrician Shortage



CNN

Thirty-five years ago, Jerry Gurwitz became one of the first geriatricians in the United States. Now, he is concerned about the decline of his field. Despite the growing elderly population, there are fewer geriatricians today than there were in 2000. This shortage has serious implications for the future of healthcare for older adults.

A Looming Crisis

Currently, there are just over 7,400 geriatricians in the United States, compared to 10,270 in 2000. This decline comes at a time when the population of Americans aged 65 and older has increased by over 60%. Research suggests that each geriatrician should care for no more than 700 patients, yet the current ratio is one provider for every 10,000 older patients.

Obstacles and Challenges

There are several factors contributing to the decline of geriatric medicine. Medical schools are not required to teach students about geriatrics, and less than half provide geriatrics-specific training or clinical experience. Completion of a one-year geriatrics fellowship, necessary for specialization in the field, is also limited. In fact, 30% of available geriatric fellowship positions went unfilled in 2022-23.

The Implications

The shortage of geriatricians will prevent them from meeting the increasing demand for their services as the elderly population continues to grow. This lack of preparedness in the healthcare system to handle the challenges of multimorbidity, functional impairment, dementia, and frailty among older adults is a cause for concern.

An Ongoing Concern

This issue has been recognized for over a decade. Fifteen years ago, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine highlighted the need for immediate action to ensure the healthcare workforce has the capacity to meet the needs of older patients in the future. It has been estimated that by 2030, the United States will require 30,000 geriatricians to care for medically complex seniors.

Barriers and Misconceptions

Several factors have hindered progress in addressing the geriatrician shortage. These include low Medicare reimbursement for services, lower earnings compared to other medical specialties, a lack of prestige associated with the field, and ageism within the healthcare system and society.

The Successful Practices of Geriatric Medicine

Despite these challenges, geriatrics has made significant advancements in improving the care of older adults. The principles advocated by geriatricians have proven effective in enhancing the well-being of seniors. These principles include prioritizing older adults’ preferences, considering the impact of treatments on functioning and independence, recognizing the influence of frailty on health outcomes, and employing interdisciplinary teams to address complex needs.

Innovations in Geriatric Medicine

Geriatricians have spearheaded numerous innovative approaches to care, such as the “Hospital-at-home” model, age-friendly health systems, geriatrics-focused surgery standards, geriatric emergency departments, and new dementia care models. These initiatives aim to provide personalized and holistic care to older adults, taking into account their unique medical, social, and emotional needs.

New Frontiers: Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence presents a new frontier in geriatric medicine. Entrepreneurs and engineers are developing AI-based products to assist older adults in living independently at home. This technology offers promising opportunities to enhance the quality of life for seniors.

The Way Forward

While significant progress has been made in geriatric medicine, further investment and resources are needed to expand the reach of these programs. However, with competing priorities in the healthcare system, there is no guarantee that this will occur. Nevertheless, it is essential for geriatrics to be integrated into mainstream healthcare to meet the growing needs of the aging population.

Conclusion

The decline of geriatric medicine poses a significant challenge as the demand for specialized care for older adults continues to rise. It is crucial for healthcare systems to address the shortage of geriatricians and invest in the principles and innovations developed by this field. Only by doing so can we ensure the well-being and quality of life for our aging population.

About the Source

KFF Health News (formerly known as Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom specializing in in-depth journalism about health issues. It operates under KFF, an independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism.

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