Will there be enough rheumatology clinicians available to treat a growing patient population in the future? Not unless serious steps are taken now, according to the American College of Rheumatology’s 2015 Workforce Study of Rheumatology Specialists in the United States. The study’s complete findings will be presented at a panel discussion session at the 2016 ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
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This is the first ACR workforce study conducted since 2005, and the findings reveal significant shortfalls that may only worsen in coming years due to retirements and more professionals working fewer hours.
“This study used an integrative, patient-centered approach to provide a realistic projection regarding the future workforce supply and access to care for patients,” says Seetha U. Monrad, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and one of the study group’s two co-chairs.
The workforce study group measured current and projected future numbers of rheumatologists and pediatric rheumatologists, as well as rheumatology nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs). They also measured clinical full-time employees (FTE) based on the amount of time these professionals actually spent in the clinic.
“While the supply and demand projections appear to be precise, the primary purpose of projections is not to set distant targets, but rather to identify what actions need to be taken in the near future to ensure movement toward achieving long-term objectives,” says study group co-chair Daniel Battafarano, DO, MACP, professor of medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and chief of rheumatology service at the San Antonio Military Medical Center.
The study’s key findings include the following current primary rheumatology workforce figures:
- 5,595 board-certified rheumatologists in the U.S. (4,997 clinical FTEs);
- 300 board-certified pediatric rheumatologists (287 clinical FTEs);
- 248 adult rheumatology NPs (228 clinical FTEs);
- 207 adult rheumatology PAs (190 clinical FTEs);
- Total active primary providers to treat adult patients: 6,050 (5,415 clinical FTEs); and
- Total active primary providers to treat pediatric patients: 326 (311 clinical FTEs).
By 2030, the study projects 3,455 adult rheumatology clinicians will be available to treat adult patients, and there would be a clinical demand for 8,184; it further projects 230 rheumatologists will be available to care for pediatric patients, and the patient demand would require 461.
“These trends reflect higher-than-anticipated retirements, changing workforce demographics and estimating clinical FTE,” says Dr. Battafarano. By 2020, more than 50% of the adult rheumatologists will be women, he adds. Another challenge: About 50% of rheumatologists and 32% of pediatric rheumatologists practicing now are projected to retire by 2025.