Is the doctor in?
Well, maybe not — at least, according to recent statistics. A study from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that the United States will see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032.
Driving the shortage is America’s aging population compounded by an aging workforce. By 2030, two in five physicians will be ages 65 or older, and the population over 65 is expected to increase by 48 percent. In order to compensate for these impending changes, we would need to add an additional 5,900 future physicians to start school immediately since it will take up to 15 years for them to complete their medical training.
The looming physician shortage will especially affect OB-GYNs. Even with the country’s declining birth rate, the OB-GYNs currently in the workforce still have to deliver up to 100 babies per year in addition to providing prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum care.
But what is the best way to ease the workload of current OB-GYNs? Let’s reframe our answer from the beginning of this post: The doctor is in, just not in the office.
The Shortage is Expected to Get Worse
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, we are currently facing a shortage of 8,800 OB-GYNs, leaving half the counties in the United States without one. This statistic is projected to worsen in 2050, when we could be seeing an OB-GYN shortage by as many as 22,000. Areas with the highest OB-GYN workloads also have the highest number of uninsured and Medicaid patients, which affects OB-GYN compensation and may increase the risk of burnout. This trend will disproportionately affect rural regions and areas with greater economic disparity.
The OB-GYN shortage will have far-reaching effects on women’s health. Some hospitals have had to stop delivery services due to the shortage of obstetricians. Additionally, millennial women are waiting longer to have children, which increases the risk of pregnancy complications that a dedicated OB-GYN could help to navigate.
Knowing these facts, and how critical OB-GYNs are to women’s health, what is one way current OB-GYNs can prepare for changes to their workload and capacity? The answer is telehealth.
How Telehealth Benefits OB-GYNs and Their Patients
Telehealth has been proven to be effective for a variety of care needs, including mental health. Adding telehealth to a practice does not mean providers have to take on more appointments; it simply makes appointments more convenient for both the doctor and the patient. Additionally, telehealth is not difficult to set up or access and most health insurance plans accept it. Additionally, research shows that telehealth has comparable health outcomes to traditional office visits.
And although telehealth cannot replace in-office visits for pap smears, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) testing, and imaging tests, it has the potential to make a significant impact on maternal care. OB-GYNs can provide health counseling, prenatal care, postpartum services, and education for pregnancy, lactation, and other maternal services. Expecting mothers who cannot travel to see their OB-GYN can access them online or through their mobile phones, which may be critical in rural areas with limited resources as discussed earlier.
For OB-GYNs who are comfortable providing virtual visits, telehealth can help foster relationships with current patients and increase their capacity for new ones. Telehealth can also integrate with the practice’s electronic health record (EHR) system to support continuity of care, which is especially important during pregnancy.
Although telehealth will not solve the OB-GYN shortage it can help practices optimize their efficiency and prevent burnout while enabling providers to continue to deliver high-quality care to their patients.