More non-physicians projected to handle primary care

Increasing retirement and proliferation of non-physician practitioners driving changes

A report by Mercer on the health care labor market illustrates the challenges of keeping primary care doctors in charge of primary care in the future.

The study shows that over the next five years, the retirement of primary care physicians will increase. Currently, about 12% of family medicine, pediatricians, and obstetricians are 65 and older and considered “retirement eligible.” By 2026, that number will grow to 21% with more than 32,000 physicians moving into retirement age. Northeast states will be hit the hardest, with about 25% of primary care physicians moving into retirement age in Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Jersey in the next five years.

At the same time, nationwide demand for primary care will increase 4%. By 2026, an estimated 23,000 PCP will leave the profession, creating a vacuum of demand for primary care. The report projects that more nurse practitioners and physician assistants will step in to fill this demand. NPs and PAs are considerably younger professions with less than half the retirement risk of primary care physicians. About 40,000 new NPs and PAs enter the work force annually, providing a steady stream of applicants willing to provide primary care.

Other report findings include:

Home care will be limited due to staffing shortages

About 9.7 million people currently work as medical assistants, home health aides, or nursing assistants, with a need for 10.7 million in five years. Low wages are expected to drive 6.5 million people from the profession, with only 1.9 million new ones to take their place, creating a critical labor shortage in health care for home services.

Nurse locations do not match regional demand

Some areas of the country, such as the south and southwest, are expected to see nursing surpluses, while the rest of the country sees a nursing shortage. There is expected to be a shortage of 100,000 nurses in the next five years, with Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado, Illinois and Massachusetts being hit the hardest.

Demand for mental health providers will drive hiring surge

The report projects a 10% increase in demand for mental health workers over the next five years. There are projected to be more than 510,000 openings for mental health workers by 2026, and like nursing, some states will fare better than others. The state facing the biggest deficits of workers are Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and Colorado, due to greater numbers of workers leaving mental health professions.