The stress and trauma experienced by many healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic has added to an issue that was already on the radar — a looming shortage of both primary care physicians and specialists. Many doctors are choosing to retire early and others are choosing to leave medicine because of burnout or mental health issues caused by their experiences treating COVID-19 patients. One survey by a physician recruitment firm found that 21% of the physicians surveyed were considering early retirement because of the pandemic and 15% are considering leaving the medical field.
Another factor contributing to the shortage is the aging American population. A growing number of people over 65 will need more specialty care, so more doctors are needed. However, that growing number of older people also includes physicians who will be reaching retirement age.
Recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges highlights the issue. The U.S. could face an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. That shortage includes:
· Primary care
· Surgical specialties, including orthopedics and obstetrics and gynecology
· Medical specialties, including cardiology, oncology, and infectious diseases
· Other specialties, including anesthesiology, addiction medicine, neurology, and emergency medicine
What to do if your doctor is retiring
Is your doctor retiring? These steps can help you choose a new one and maintain continuity of care:
Ask your doctor for a recommendation. If you’re happy with your current doctor, ask her or him to recommend someone who can take their place after they retire. Share what qualities you’re looking for (shared decision making, easy to reach with questions, experience treating a specific condition, for example) and ask if they think any of their colleagues would be a good fit. A health advisor can also help you find a new primary care physician or specialist who fits your needs.
Check the new doctor’s credentials. Before choosing a new doctor, check his or her credentials. This should include medical education, fellowship training, licensing, and board certification. Find out at which medical centers the physician has privileges. It’s also important to check with your health insurer to find out if the doctor is in your insurance network if healthcare costs are a concern.
Gather your medical records. Ask your retiring doctor to provide you with a complete copy of your medical record so you can share this information with your new provider. A health advisor can ensure you have an up-to-date, comprehensive medical record that includes information from all your physicians. The advisor will collect, review, and consolidate your records into a single, secure electronic medical record that can easily be shared with your new physician.
Interview your candidates. Before making a final decision, it’s wise to schedule an appointment to talk with your potential new doctor. You’re not just looking for a physician who is medically skilled, you’ll also want to talk about his or her philosophy of care. Are they open to answering questions about their treatment recommendations? Do they encourage patients to be part of the decision-making process? You should also ask about how the practice works: How much time do they allot for appointments? Do they have evening or weekend appointments? How is after-hours care handled? Who covers their patients when they’re not available? What’s the average wait time for an appointment and are there same-day sick care appointments? Are telehealth appointments available?
With this information in hand, you’ll be better prepared to choose a new doctor.