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Carol Eustice

Rheumatologist Shortage Faces Arthritis Patients

By May 8, 2007

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As the population grows older, more people will develop arthritis and seek effective treatment. It has been projected that the increased need for practicing rheumatologists will result in a shortage during future decades, according to a study published in the March 2007 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism. Researchers analyzed a workforce projection of rheumatology specialist supply and demand for 2005-2025. The model to project the future need for rheumatologists was developed using the age and sex distribution of current physicians, retirement and mortality rates, the number of fellowship slots and fill rates, and practice patterns of current rheumatologists.

In 2005, there were 4,946 rheumatologists for adult patients in the United States. Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in treating arthritis and related rheumatic conditions. Study results revealed that the mean number of visits per rheumatologist per year is 3,758 for male rheumatologists and 2,800 for female rheumatologists. The demand for rheumatologists in 2025 is expected to exceed supply by 2,576 adult rheumatologists and 33 pediatric rheumatologists. To correct this aspect of a pending health crisis, researchers suggested that it's necessary to:

  • increase the number of fellows each year
  • utilize more physician assistants and nurse practitioners
  • improve the efficiency of each rheumatology practice

Already, some arthritis patients have long wait-times when making appointments with rheumatologists, especially those living away from big cities. Expect the problem to get worse before it gets better.

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Photo by Levent Ince (iStockphoto)

May 9, 2007 at 5:26 pm
(1) Susan says:

I live in the US Virgin Islands. We have NO Rheumatologist here —- none! I just saw one at John’s Hopkins; the first time in three years!

May 9, 2007 at 6:10 pm
(2) Carol says:

Thanks for your comment. The shortage of rheumatologists is a universal issue – certainly more severe in some areas than others.

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