The United States is facing a doctor shortage, which could make it difficult for millions of people to get the medical attention they require in the near future—both from primary care physicians and from specialists. It’s estimated that by 2030, we’ll see a shortage of 120,000 physicians or more, with a shortage of 42,000 even by the most optimistic estimates.
If we don’t start acting now, we may not be able to reverse or otherwise sensibly address that shortage. New technology—like video training—could positively change how we entice and prepare medical students, but is it enough to make an impact on the coming shortage?
Factors for the Doctor Shortage
Let’s start by analyzing some of the main factors behind the doctor shortage in the first place:
- Interest and qualifications. First, there are fewer people interested in becoming physicians. Most medical schools have ridiculously high requirements for their students, often demanding perfect GPAs in high school and/or early college education, so even the interested students could be immediately disqualified from consideration.
- Training and education. It takes upwards of 14 years of education and training to become a physician, and most professions in the medical industry require challenging certifications—and lots of hoops to jump through—before you can begin practicing. That extensive training time has a few different effects, deterring people from attempting it, providing more potential failure points, and ultimately increasing the time it takes to turn a student into a doctor. While it’s beneficial to have physicians who are thoroughly educated and trained, this grueling process may be doing more harm than good.
- Burdens of being a doctor. It’s stressful and financially burdensome to be a doctor. The education path puts most aspiring young doctors in serious debt, and on top of that, malpractice insurance and licensing requirements mean the first several years of operation won’t be profitable. More importantly, medical professions tend to have a high burnout rate; professionals are forced to work long hours (away from their families), and often have to suffer from seeing patients succumb to injuries and illnesses on a regular basis. Many doctors end up quitting or retiring early, deepening the crisis.
- An aging population. We’re also seeing increased demands for medical treatment because of our aging population. Between 2015 and 2030, it’s estimated that the number of people aged 60 or older is going to grow from 900 million to more than 1.5 billion. That’s a ton of people who will all need significant medical care, without a corresponding increase in the number of medical professionals to provide that care. There’s no easy way to mitigate this problem.
How Video Training Technology Could Help
One of the most impressive new technologies in the medical training world is immersive video training—which provides healthcare simulations they can use to hone their skills.
There are several benefits to this approach in relation to the impending doctor shortage:
- Video training is cheap, compared to other methods. Teaching hospitals are notoriously low on funds, and recruiting professionals with enough medical experience to educate new students can be ridiculously expensive. On the contrary, video training programs cost a bit to produce initially, but can be reused with a practically infinite number of students. Ultimately, this can reduce education costs that limit both student interest and program costs.
- It’s also much easier and more convenient to be trained with immersive video simulations than it is to be in a hands-on environment (though hands-on training is still necessary as well). It allows more medical candidates to access the education and training they need to be successful.
- Targeted training. Physicians in training need to be able to witness and treat a wide variety of ailments, which can take a long time if you’re waiting for fringe cases to show up in the field. Video training can provide specific simulations, which can cut that waiting time dramatically and facilitate faster overall training for students.
- Personal interest. For new students, high-tech education and training methods are simply more interesting. More immersive technologies in medical training could entice more med school applicants, and encourage more people to join the profession.
Is It Enough?
The doctor shortage is arising due to several complexly interrelated factors—not just a single hurdle. Accordingly, no single change is going to be enough to fully prevent it. Video training has the potential to expedite the training process for new doctors, and attract more people to the field, but it won’t make an impact on how our population is aging, nor does it have the power to change the conditions of being a medical professional. If we’re going to mitigate or prevent the doctor shortage, we’ll need to adopt solutions in multiple other areas.
Originally posted on blogs.iu.edu