Medicine and the economic crisis

MedPage Today talks about how the economic crisis will affect physicians, hospitals, and medical education.

First, many older physicians will delay retirement. Perhaps this can temporarily stave off the predicted physician shortage:

“I look at my 401k and think ‘Okay, I just turned 62, and 70 is starting to look like a better retirement field,'” Dr. Jessee said.

An en masse delay in retirement may offset a predicted physician shortage, which might just be a small “silver lining” in the economic downturn, Dr. Jessee said.

But when these physicians realize some of the money they had planned for retirement is no longer there, they might turn away patients who will bring in little or no reimbursement money, predicted Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt, Ph.D.

Medical students will find it more difficult to find loans for education. This is troubling considering the cost of medical school often exceeds $250,000. By accepting loans with higher interests rates, newly graduated doctors will be further debt-burdened. They’ll likely choose a lucrative specialty career more than ever:

Dr. Jessee said that students already are so loaded with debt, many will opt for lucrative careers as specialists rather than turning to primary care. This will exacerbate an already thin primary care physician pipeline. If students are either unable to get loans, or are only able to negotiate high interest rates, the pipeline will further thin.

Finally, expect the hospital building boom to slow down, but that’s not exactly a bad thing:

Aside from capital improvements, Dr. Reinhardt thinks payers will now turn a more critical eye to reimbursing hospitals for the newest medical gadget.

Finally, expect practices to put off adopting electronic medical records for the foreseeable future. That’s a shame, since that will further delay any potential future cost savings that EMRs may bring.

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