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Science News

Shortage of Neurologists Predicted to Worsen

People with Parkinson’s and other diseases that affect the brain often wait more than a month for a first appointment with a neurologist, because of a shortage of these specialists in the United States.  A new study predicts that this situation will worsen by 2025, if the supply of newly trained neurologists fails to keep up with the increasing needs of an aging population for neurological care.  The research appears in the April 17 online issue of the journal Neurology.

Other studies have shown that people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who are treated by neurologists fare better than those under the care of general practitioners.  Additionally, PDF recommends seeking out a neurologist with specialized training in treating PD, known as a movement disorder specialist.

Long wait times and the fact that many hospitals have difficulty in recruiting neurologists to their staff point to a shortage of neurologists in the United States today.  Knowing this, researchers led by Thomas R. Vidic, M.D., at the Elkhart Clinic in Elkhart, IN, used a mathematical model to forecast neurologist supply and demand up to the year 2025.  On the supply side they accounted for factors such as projected numbers of new neurologists to be trained, hours devoted to patient care and retirements.  To predict demand, they assessed factors such as future needs for neurological care by people with PD, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders, and the impact of expanded medical insurance coverage associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Results

  • The study authors predict that demand for neurologists over the next 12 years will grow faster than the supply.
  • Today an estimated 16,366 neurologists practice in the United States, whereas 18,180 are needed.
  • By 2025, researchers predict about 18,060 neurologists will be working, but 21,440 will be required to satisfy demand – a shortfall of about 3400 neurologists, or 19 percent.
  • On average, there are 5.2 neurologists per 100,000 people in the U.S.  But this number varies tremendously from state to state: Massachusetts had the most neurologists per 100,000 people, 12.1; Nevada and Wyoming had the fewest, with 2.6.

What Does It Mean?

The study authors predict that, unless efforts are made to increase the number of practicing neurologists, the supply of these specialists will not keep pace with demand.  Wait times to see the doctor may increase, and access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries may become more difficult because many neurologists limit the number of people they treat who have this insurance coverage.

That said, many uncertainties can influence the future of neurological care.  For example, the way medical students choose their specialties depends in part on Medicare reimbursement rates, which can change.  Innovative ways to deliver care may eventually make it more accessible.

However, the current shortage of neurologists already makes it necessary for many people with PD to travel to academic medical centers – sometimes hours away – to receive care.  Add to that the uneven distribution of neurologists across the country, and it seems likely that travel will continue to be a challenge for people with PD and other neurological disorders seeking care from a specialist.

Find a Doctor, Learn About PDF’s Solutions

Do you have more questions about finding a Parkinson’s specialist? Contact us at (800) 457-6676 or info@pdf.org to locate a specialist near you, where available, or use our free resources below.

What is being done to ensure people with Parkinson’s have specialist care? As part of its research programs, PDF funds $1.38 million to prepare leaders in Parkinson’s research and clinical practice.

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Source Date: Apr 26 2013