A shortage of health care providers who specialize in geriatrics at a time when the number of people ages 65 and older is rapidly growing threatens to jeopardize the health of older Americans, according to experts in the field.
“We are not prepared as a nation. We are facing a crisis,” says Dr. Heather Whitson, associate professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. “Our current health care system is ill equipped to provide the optimal care experience for patients with multiple chronic conditions or with functional limitations and disabilities.”
Americans are living longer, with many needing to manage a host of chronic diseases, including hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and dementia. One in 5 Americans will be eligible for Medicare by 2030, with people 65 and older expected to account for almost 20 percent of the nation’s population by then.
“We routinely see people over 100 years old. It’s remarkably common,” says Dr. Wayne McCormick, AGS president and professor of medicine in the University of Washington’s division of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.
Despite the projected increase in the number of older Americans, few medical students are choosing geriatrics, putting the future supply of geriatricians in jeopardy. In 2010, only 75 residents in internal medicine or family medicine entered geriatric medicine fellowship programs, the AGS reported.