Physician shortage in radiology, other specialties could surpass 35,000 by 2034, but AI also a factor

America’s shortage of radiologists and other physician specialists could surpass 35,000 by 2034, according to a recently published analysis.

Across all care segments, the number could climb as high as 124,000. Both aging and population growth are primary drivers of these shortages, with the 65-and-up segment projected to swell by more than 42% over the next decade. The findings are part of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ seventh annual analysis of physician supply and demand, published June 11.

The report did not give a specific number for radiology alone, lumping the specialty together with anesthesiology, neurology, emergency medicine and addiction specialists. This segment is projected to see a shortfall of between 10,300 and 35,600 physicians by 2034. “Nonprimary care specialties” have the highest anticipated deficit (upward of 77,100), while “medical specialties” (such as cardiology, oncology and pulmonology) had the lowest (13,400).

AAMC noted that the “other specialties” category is 1,400 higher due primarily to demand in physical medicine, psychiatry, and neurology, but “lower demand for radiologists.”

“While some factors, such as an aging population and national goals to expand access to care, will increase demand for physicians, others could decrease demand, or increases and decreases in demand could offset each other,” the report noted. “For example, advances in artificial intelligence could improve the productivity of radiologists, pathologists and others in detecting and diagnosing cancers and other medical conditions, possibly leading to a lower demand for these physicians to care for the existing population.”

An AAMC spokesman could not provide further details on its radiology estimates, but said the predicted decline is based on “changing demographics and utilization patterns.”

Global information company IHS Markit conducted the analysis on behalf of AAMC back in 2019 prior to the pandemic. The firm utilized data including physician work hours and retirement trends. More than 2 of every 5 physicians in the U.S. will reach age 65 or older within the next decade, and their decision to hang up the stethoscope will “dramatically affect the magnitude of national workforce shortages,” the report noted. You can find the full analysis here.

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