The shortage of primary care physicians around the country affects more than run-of-the-mill patients who endure longer wait times and shorter doctor visits. It also affects a patients who are sick, frail, and may be at the end of their lives—the elderly. That's because the number of geriatricians, PCPs with one to two years of additional training in elder care, is also diminishing.
Caring for an aging patient presents unique challenges for physicians even when the patient is relatively healthy. And when an elderly patient has dementia, their individual needs are more acute, and they need specialized a care beyond what a PCP can give.
"Dementia is not treated in a holistic manner," says Kyle Allen, DO, vice president for clinical integration and medical director for geriatric medicine and the lifelong health division for Newport News, VA–based Riverside Health System made up of seven hospitals, a medical group, and a full continuum of care for aging patients. "Geriatricians who've had the training understand that this is a family illness. This is not just an individual."
The American Geriatrics Society estimates that there will need to be 30,000 geriatricians by 2030, that's when one in five Americans will be eligible for Medicare. There are currently 7,500 geriatricians in the U.S. The gap is so wide, that it casts a pall on the quality of care that could be available in the future.