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The Looming Healthcare Workforce Shortage Crisis: The Case for Digital Health Tech

Rene Quashie, VP, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Digital Health, Consumer Technology Association

The United States healthcare system is facing a clinician workforce crisis. While stakeholders debate finer points of healthcare policy, the underlying larger point is often missed—we soon will not have enough trained healthcare providers to tend to patients.

The numbers speak for themselves. By 2030, the country will see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians—impacting both primary and specialty care. Per a recent report, by 2025, the U.S. will likely face a shortage of 446,300 home health aides, 98,700 medical and lab technologists and technicians and 95,000 nursing assistants, just to name a few.

These shortages come in the midst of hiring sprees in certain provider sectors.  Globally, the picture is no more encouraging. One model predicts that by 2030, global demand for health workers will increase to 80 million workers, about double the current stock of health workers. 

Why is there a shortage? Reports looking at healthcare workforce issues cite several trends fueling the shortage including a faculty shortage at professional schools, early retirements, the high cost of health worker education and training and occupational turnover. 

A recent workforce study further drives home the point: the U.S. is facing a shortage of almost 9,000 OB-GYNs, with that number expected to reach 22,000 by 2050. The implications could not be more serious, since the resulting lack of access to care could lead to devastating effects for women’s health. 

The workforce issue is more damning when you consider the prospect of an increasingly aging population. By most projections, by 2030, almost 20 percent of U.S. residents will be 65 and over.  But the safety net of family providers and caregivers is predicted to continue to shrink dramatically. Aging people tend to have more health problems and increased medical costs and ultimately, the current healthcare ecosystem is not sustainable.

While stakeholders discuss the best ways to address the impending crisis – removing barriers restricting the creation of new professional schools, greater use of non-physician providers, reforming how providers are paid, changing how providers are educated and trained – digital health often gets short shrift in these policy discussions. That is a mistake. Just as technology is transforming finance, agriculture and transportation, it can revolutionize healthcare.    

As CTA’s President and CEO Gary Shapiro has written, personal health devices such as wireless blood pressure monitors, diabetes meters and electrocardiogram sensors will increasingly provide less expensive and more accurate monitoring than clinicians. Remote patient monitoring tools are able to provide real-time data to help care managers better manage individuals away from healthcare facilities.

Clinical decision support solutions can be deployed to assist clinicians in making medical diagnoses and treatment decisions, and are even being used to reduce emergency visits and hospital readmissions. Artificial intelligence solutions, such as virtual nursing assistants, are finding their way into clinical workflows. Large national networks are providing high-quality video telemedicine interactions between physicians and patients.  And virtual reality companies are helping train surgeons for real-life operations and challenges.

Digital health is not the only solution to the impending crisis. But the use of innovative technology in healthcare is a critical component of any serious strategy to address the issues discussed above.

Hear from industry experts in digital health tech and trends at CES 2019. Check out the Digital Health Summit conference track. Healthcare professionals can also get hands-on experience with digital health technology and earn Continuing Medical Education credits at CES 2019 with the Disruptive Innovations in Health Care conference track.