More non-physicians should take care of primary care

Increase in retirements and proliferation of non-medical practitioners, drivers of change

A report by Mercer on the healthcare labor market illustrates the challenges of retaining primary care physicians in primary care in the future.

The study shows that over the next five years, the number of retirements of primary care physicians will increase. Currently, approximately 12% of family physicians, pediatricians and obstetricians are 65 years of age and over and are considered “eligible for retirement”. By 2026, that number will increase to 21% with more than 32,000 physicians reaching retirement age. The northeastern states will be the hardest hit, with about 25% of primary care physicians reaching retirement age in Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Jersey over the next five years.

At the same time, the national demand for primary care will increase by 4%. By 2026, approximately 23,000 PCPs will leave the profession, creating a vacuum in the demand for primary care. The report predicts that more nurse practitioners and medical assistants will step in to meet this demand. NPs and PAs are considerably younger professions with less than half the risk of retirement for primary care physicians. Approximately 40,000 new NPs and PAs enter the workforce each year, providing a constant flow of applicants eager to provide primary care.

Other findings of the report include:

Home care will be limited due to understaffing

About 9.7 million people are currently working as medical assistants, home helpers or caregivers, with a need of 10.7 million in five years. Low wages are expected to drive 6.5 million people out of the profession, with just 1.9 million new ones to take their place, creating a critical health care workforce shortage for home services.

Nursing locations do not match regional demand

Some parts of the country, such as the south and southwest, are expected to experience nurse surpluses, while the rest of the country is experiencing a shortage of nurses. A shortage of 100,000 nurses is expected over the next five years, with Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado, Illinois and Massachusetts the hardest hit.

Demand for mental health care providers will drive more hires

The report predicts a 10% increase in demand for mental health workers over the next five years. There are expected to be over 510,000 vacancies for mental health workers by 2026, and like nursing, some states will fare better than others. The states facing the largest shortage of workers are Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Colorado, due to the largest numbers of workers leaving mental health professions.

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