LONG ISLAND, NY – A ticking timebomb is set in the healthcare system as a mounting wave of primary care doctor shortages threaten America, with Long Island being at the forefront. According to an unnerving study commissioned by Northwell Health, America could be contending with a shortfall of approximately 48,000 doctors by 2034.
That translates to a staggering 72 million Americans risk being without a doctor, disclosed Dr. Lauren Block, a general internist at Northwell Health, who is also the senior author of these pertinent findings hailing from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.
The implications of this research are even more concerning for Long Island, where medical experts have acknowledged the struggle of finding general internists to fill in the void left by retiring physicians. With an uptick in healthcare professionals gravitating towards hospital medicine and other higher-paying areas, the shortage is increasingly felt.
In the words of Christine Faherty, a Huntington resident, “It takes at least three months to get an appointment. Whoever gives me the quickest appointment is what I take.”
Regrettably, this is the stark reality that many other patients face. The shortage creates a ripple effect with far-reaching implications on the accessibility of healthcare. As Columbia University Medical Center’s assistant professor Dr. Susannah Hills highlighted, patients typically end up in the emergency room, deprived of the established relationship and continuity that comes with having a regular primary care provider. Indeed, the elderly demographic stands at the greatest risk.
Supporting this alarming trend, Census data from 2020 established that Long Island’s median age had climbed to 42, two years higher than a decade ago and exceeding both the state and national medians. Therefore, the rapid aging of Long Island’s population triggers fears that the demand for doctors could outpace supply at an alarming rate.
Addressing these alarming projections, David Vitt, an associate professor with the Department of Economics at Farmingdale State College, asserts the importance of readiness. “We have to focus on how we can prepare the workforce, particularly on the medical side, to meet the aging population group,” he urges.
But what’s the antidote to this looming crisis? Dr. Block proposes several strategic measures, the first of which is an increase in pay for primary care doctors. Monetary incentives could attract more residents to specialize in general internal medicine, thereby mitigating the looming shortages. Concurrently, college-debt relief could also be a viable solution in enticing more doctors into the field.
Finally, advocating for a work-life balance should be pushed into the foreground. After all, a sustainable schedule is instrumental in preventing burnout among doctors, thereby ensuring the long-term health of the profession.
In anticipation of these projected shortages, experts encourage individuals to familiarize themselves with different doctors or partners within a practice in their area, thereby becoming equipped with alternatives should their regular provider be booked. By taking these active measures in patient empowerment, the blow of the impending shortage can be mitigated, at least to some degree.