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The Healthcare Industry is Reeling from COVID-19

Health & Gender Policy Brief #145 | By: Geoffrey Small | October 3, 2022

Header photo taken from: Getty Images

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A physician at the end of a long shift in an Italian hospital in Pesaro, Italy, at the beginning of the SARS CoV2 pandemic in April, 2020. This scene could one day be the norm in the event of a physician shortage if current trends continue.

Photo taken from: Alberto Giuliani, Wikimedia Commons

Policy Summary

President Joe Biden has declared that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Many experts in the scientific community may agree or disagree with Biden’s assessment, but the prospect of herd immunity, public awareness, and methods of prevention have undoubtedly come a long way since the coronavirus first made its global impact. As U.S. society is transitioning back to pre-pandemic social norms, the healthcare industry is still reeling from COVID-19. Studies indicate U.S. healthcare workers’ emotional exhaustion and burnout is worsening, increasing the likelihood of frequent staff turnover. 

As staffing becomes a major issue, physician groups across the country are consolidating at an accelerating pace in an effort to save costs and promote greater efficiencies in the delivery of services. Some experts believe this consolidation of services could lead to more corporate influence. These changes in the dynamics of the healthcare industry come at a time when global demand and cost for services continues to rise. Also, another development in the health care industry related to are cent Texas Federal District court decision may hamper accessibility for the Affordable Care Act and its cost-reduction policies in the United States.

Policy Analysis

Two surveys conducted by Duke University analyzed 107,122 U.S healthcare workers’ responses between September 2019 and January 2022. The surveys indicated that emotional exhaustion in the healthcare industry rose from 31.8% to 40.4%. The authors of the study indicated that current well-being programs for healthcare workers may not be enough to address the significant increase in emotional exhaustion rates. Lack of   accessibility to healthcare worker well-being programs, such as counseling and support groups, are part of the issue. 

These services are also not immune to increased staffing turnover and burnout. Staffing shortages will also be exacerbated by an aging workforce. According to a Association of American Medical Colleges study,  “more than two of five currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade.” The U.S. will face a shortage of physicians by 2034 if the rate of medical graduates doesn’t increase.

Graph above taken from: Association of American Medical Colleges

As systemic issues with emotional exhaustion, burnout, and an aging workforce increase in the healthcare industry, physician groups are consolidating IN PART to help address these compounding burdens.  

The Physicians Advocacy Institute reported that 31,300 physicians practices were acquired by corporate entities between January 2019 and January 2022. This comes at a time when the American Medical Association reported that 2020 was the first year in modern medical history where fewer than half of the physicians worked in a private practice. Experts in the physician community believe that corporations absorbing private practices can potentially interfere with physicians’ judgement on care and a patient’s best interests.

Graph taken from: American Medical Association

As physician groups are consolidating, world-wide expenditures are projected to rise annually by 3.4% according to a global healthcare study. This is due to a high demand for healthcare access in lower and middle-income countries, as well as global population increases. The demand is especially high for age groups 50 years and older in a post-pandemic world. The United States may also experience immediate cost increases, due to a recent court decision involving the Affordable Care Act. A Texas Federal District Court Judge recently ruled in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s policy of requiring health insurance companies to pay the full cost of a patient’s preventative services, stating that the law is unconstitutional.

Medical staffing issues, high global demand for quality healthcare, and corporate influence can lead to a perfect storm of accessibility issues for patients. It is important to recognize that healthcare workers need better access to well-being programs that mitigate burnout and prevent staffing shortages. Project Hope is one of the major non-profit organizations that is distributing protective equipment, training, and mental health support to health care workers still fighting COVID-19. Donating to organizations like these can help mitigate the issues the United States faces in a post-pandemic society.

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