What does the physician of tomorrow look like?

By | September 12, 2017

There has been continued debate concerning the topic of physician shortages. Just like any discussion, there are numbers to use that support both sides. Pure supply and demand economics does not support the idea of a shortage, and as technology in healthcare matures, this new technology will drive down the supply needs. In a value-based model, innovation will also continue to decrease the need of physicians as present care models will be less physician-centric. We could debate the numbers all day long.

But there is another aspect to this conversation that needs to be taken into account. What does the physician of tomorrow look like? The generational difference has been cited as a point of reason why there will be a physician shortage. Millennials are said to want better work/life balance, therefore decreasing supply. They will want to retire earlier thus removing working bodies from the physician pool. However, there are other components that will in fact help with the perceived shortages. The data supports that the new generation of physicians are much more willing to look at data and are willing to be more evidenced-based in their treatment approach. If this is true, then those we serve will need fewer services, not more. Using data will help distinguish who needs what versus the present model of basically everyone needs everything. Data will also improve the productivity of physicians. We also need to remember that the types of data healthcare will be using in the future will look very different and support workflow improvement as well.

An additional point that will improve with future generations of physicians is the use of technology. Millennials are much more tech savvy and will want to leverage the use of technology to improve their work/life balance. They will be part of the innovation needed to figure out how to make it work better because they have an incentive to, getting them to what they want to focus on: their life. So what is viewed by some as possibly increasing the perceived shortage in fact would mitigate the issue.

A third dynamic is survey data supports the desire for younger physicians to embrace and work in the administrative side of healthcare. This shift in vocation is used as an argument for increased shortages, but in reality should have the opposite effect. As practicing physicians begin to focus on how to care for people in new and creative ways, they are in fact caring for more people by designing and implementing models that will be very different than they are today. Historically there has been a focus on how the physician workforce needs to do more, rather than a focus on how to decrease the bottleneck this mindset creates.

Looking at the physician of tomorrow and their attributes should give us hope, not dismay. We need to embrace the positive characteristics and leverage them as we continue on our journey of delivering more person-centered care to more people.