The United States has only about one-third as many primary-care physicians with specialty geriatrics training as it needs right now and will need more than five times as many by 2030, according to a new report.
The report by the Alliance for Aging Research raises concerns about the financial future of public healthcare programs serving the elderly, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which could benefit from growing numbers of geriatrics specialists.
If the U.S. healthcare system can delay each senior citizen's physical dependency by one month, the nation could save $5 billion in the aggregate, the report said.
The report counted 6,784 internists, psychiatrists and family practice physicians who have become certified geriatricians. But the demands of 30 million senior citizens require that at least 20,000 physicians receive training in geriatrics, the report said.
By 2030, when the population of senior citizens reaches 65 million, the nation will need 36,000 geriatricians, the report said.
Meanwhile, only 14 of the country's 126 medical schools require students to receive geriatric training, and the 500 geriatricians now qualified to teach medical students are about 1,600 short of what is needed.
"This report sounds an important warning that, in the face of a rapidly aging population, we are facing a severe shortage of doctors trained to manage the special healthcare needs of older persons," said Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Special Aging Committee, which last week held a forum on the report following its release.
The report calls for increases in the number of medical school faculty members who can teach geriatrics and recommends requiring medical students to receive some exposure to geriatric medicine.