Current Events Physician Compensation Supply of Medical Services

Geriatrician Shortage

According to U.S. Census projections, the number of individuals 65 and older will increase from 12.4% of the populations in 2000 to 20.7% of the population in 2050. With the expected incredible rise in the number of elderly in the U.S., one would expect a concurrent rise in the number of geriatricians.

NPR’s Marketplace, however, reports that there are too few geriatricians. Currently there are only 7000 geriatricians, a 22 percent decline eight years ago. Why isn’t the increased demand for geriatricians–due to the aging popualation–causing more medical student to choose to specialize in geriatircs?

Brandeis professor Dr. Stuart Altman reveals the reason: the insurance system is biased against doctors–like geriatricians–who concentrate on preventive medicine. “The way the health system pays the workers in it, it has a very strong bias in favor of high-tech services, highly specialized services and primarily services for acute care.” Time-intestive, non-procedure based primary care is not as highly compensated. In fact, geriatricians make a quarter to a third less than other specialists.

Some physicians who focus on primary care, however, are discovering that concierge practices give physicians more time to spend with patients and can be more lucrative as well. In my hometown of Milwaukee, Froedtert is opening its own concierge clinic.