Physician Shortage and Medical Attorneys
Connecticut is facing a serious physician shortage. Throughout the country, physician shortages have been predicted. However, a recent report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) found that the shortage is much worse than experts thought.
What the Report Revealed
The report shows that Connecticut has a “looming” crisis. The state’s population is still growing strong, but a majority of the population is aging while physician numbers steadily decline.
There is already a shortage of primary care physicians, but the new study predicts an alarming demand for specialties – including surgeries. The shortfalls are estimated to be 33,500 to 61,800 by 2030. This number will outpace the shortage of primary care physicians for the first time in history.
In total, the shortages range from 40,800 to 104,900 physicians. There were four categories listed within the AAMC report, including:
- Primary Care
- Medical Specialties
- Surgical Specialties
- Other Health Care Specialties
Connecticut, compared to other states, will have a higher shortage of physicians because the state suffers from one of the oldest physician populations. A vast majority of physicians in the state will have retired by 2030. Younger physicians are finding more incentives to work out of the state, so they are closing and relocating practices.
Already, the state has requested that legislatures take action to encourage younger physicians to remain in the state. Some of the proposals include reforming medical malpractice insurance laws and establishing a loan forgiveness program for medical students who stay in the state and practice for several years.
The AAMC’s report has also recommended increasing federal funding for states at risk of extreme shortages to create more residency programs in local hospitals.
Where Are All the Physicians?
There are a variety of reasons why Connecticut and other states are experiencing a significant shortage. While a large majority of the physicians practicing in the state are retiring soon, other reasons include:
- Increased demand for healthcare services. With the Affordable Care Act, more patients have received the opportunity to receive healthcare services. This puts a higher demand on physicians in all specialties and cities, and there are not enough physicians to keep up with that heightened demand.
- Student loans are deterring primary care entrance. Most physicians graduating from school are no longer interested in primary care. This is due to the extensive cost associated with student loans. These physicians are then forced to enter specialties that pay more – often three times that of a primary care physician.
- Stress and cost of managing private practice. Medical liabilities, higher volumes of patients, and lower incomes for private practice are a deterrent. Physicians do not want to deal with the costs, liabilities, and stresses of having their own office; therefore, they elect to work in clinics or hospitals or enter a specialty that lets them operate as contractors.
How the Physician Shortage Impacts Patient Care and Quality of Care
Many think that there are no risks associated with a physician shortage, but they are not looking at it from a quality perspective.
Not only will patients wait in waiting rooms longer to see physicians, but they may experience other issues in the quality and timeliness of their care that could lead to dramatic results, if not corrected very soon.
Just some quality issues include:
- Less time spent with each patient. Each physician will be under demands to see more patients in a day. Therefore, they will be limited on time with each patient. In some cases, physicians will only spend five to ten minutes with a patient and then quickly move on to the next.
- Delay in medical treatments. In an emergency, a patient may not receive a call back from the physician, or may not even be seen by a physician immediately when at the emergency room because of a shortage in staffing.
- Longer times to see the physician. In addition to wait times, a patient may have to wait weeks or months to even meet with a physician due to schedules being overloaded.
- Double-booked patient appointments. More clinics and private doctors’ offices are double-booking patients. This allows more patients to be serviced each day, which increases the office’s revenue, but dramatically lowers the quality of care.
- Clinics hiring inexperienced or poor quality physicians to accommodate. To meet the patient demands in the area, a hospital, clinic, or physician’s office might hire inexperienced staff. This might include physicians with limited experience in a specialty, interns, physician’s assistants, medical assistants, and other health care professionals who are underqualified for the position.
Clearly, the physician shortage will lead to several complications in patient flow and quality of care. As the number of physicians continues to decline, and the baby boomer generation ages and retires, the issue will only become worse.
What Common Medical Errors Could Arise from a Physician Shortage?
Sadly, the biggest victims of the physician shortage and aging population will be those who seek medical care, especially in rural areas where physicians are fewer in numbers than metropolitan areas. Because of the physician and healthcare professional shortage, there is a heightened risk for errors and injuries.
Just some injuries and errors likely to occur from the shortage include:
A medical misdiagnosis occurs when a physician diagnoses the patient with the incorrect condition. Not all misdiagnoses cases are medical malpractice. If the physician conducts all necessary testing and the conclusion is still inaccurate, he or she was not negligent. However, with the shortened times that physicians will have with their patients, they are less likely to order a series of tests or even have the time to review those tests. They may delegate laboratory result reviews to physician assistants or nursing staff who might be unqualified to accurately interpret the results, further increasing the risk for a medical misdiagnosis.
A physician is unlikely to have the time to listen to all of the patient’s symptoms and concerns, let alone examine him or her. Therefore, doctors may go with a prescribe-and-treat solution instead of testing before diagnosing.
A delayed diagnosis is not the wrong diagnosis, but a delay in diagnostics in general. Due to serious delays expected in medical care, a delayed diagnosis is a big threat for patients. Physicians might be unable to follow up with a patient for weeks or months, which delays a critical diagnosis.
A patient’s limited time with the physician could also lead to a delay. The physician may discount symptoms and complaints, prescribe medication, and have patients come back later for testing if the medication does not work. Unfortunately, by the time the patient receives the proper diagnosis, it might be too late for a favorable outcome.
While there are fewer primary care physicians, the lack of physicians extends well into surgical fields. Surgeons will be taking on more surgeries and having to move quickly in routine, as well as complicated, surgical procedures. Staff will be overwhelmed during both pre-operative and post-operative procedures. This might mean an increase in surgical errors, such as operating on the wrong area of the body, operating on the wrong patient, post-operative infection from improper sanitization, leaving surgical equipment in the patient, and damage during surgery.
Physician shortages are going to increase medication errors in several ways, including:
- Pharmacy Errors – Physician shortages might bring in heightened prescription volumes for pharmacies. After all, it will be easier for a physician to prescribe a medication instead of ordering laboratory tests. They may rush when writing prescriptions, making an error in the dosage or leaving the prescription unreadable. If the pharmacy guesses or misinterpret instructions, the patient could receive the wrong medication, incorrect dosage, and more.
- Dangerous Interactions – When a physician does not have time to talk to the patient, he or she may miss dangerous drug interactions, including interactions with over-the-counter medications taken by the patient.
- Anesthesia Errors – Patients could receive too much anesthesia or have a complication during a surgical procedure, due to inaccurate history or monitoring during surgery.
- Wrong Medication – The wrong medication could be prescribed by a rushed physician or nurse. A physician’s assistant may prescribe medications without consulting the overseeing physician, which could lead to prescribing the incorrect dose or the wrong medication entirely.
Pregnancy and Childbirth Injuries and Complications
Pregnant mothers and infant injuries might increase with the shortage. Physicians may have too little time to diagnose issues with the pregnancy, and the number of unnecessary C-sections could increase so that physicians can better stack their patient count. Common issues with childbirth, such as shoulder dystocia, breech babies, and more could go undiagnosed and lead to serious complications during birth.
What Are Your Rights if You’re Injured by a Physician?
A physician shortage is no excuse for inadequate or negligent medical practice. If you are injured from a preventable injury or error, you may be entitled to compensation. You must contact a Connecticut medical malpractice attorney to explore your options.
A malpractice lawyer will not only improve the likelihood that you will succeed with your case, but you could receive more compensation with an attorney’s assistance than trying to collect compensation on your own.