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According to the report published by RXInformer, over 50% of U.S. physicians are over the age of 50 and one third will be over the age of 65 in the next decade.Thirty percent of physicians retire between the ages of 60 and 65, and more are leaving the profession before retirement age due to job dissatisfaction and burnout. A limited number of residency programs, combined with fewer young people aspiring to careers in medicine, has restricted the number of new physicians. All of which means that physicians are leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced.

The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of 47,000 – 122,000 physicians by 2032, with family and internal medicine, emergency medicine, hospitalists, and radiologists all falling within the top 10 specialties experiencing shortages. Urgent care, cardiology, orthopedic surgery, neurology, general surgery, and anesthesiology are all included within the top 20.

And the healthcare industry has been directly affected by supply chain disruptions for a large variety of products, as well as experiencing an exacerbation of the already serious shortage of healthcare professionals, making some services equally hard to come by.

The ripple effect of supply chain disruptions, along with ongoing price inflation, can make it challenging to keep up with the fluctuating scarcity and costs of healthcare goods and services, but some notable deficiencies that affect workers’ compensation healthcare include:

Oxygen: COVID-19 has caused a very high demand for oxygen, which many people who suffer from other chronic respitory ailments had already depended on. While oxygen itself is not in short supply, providing the specialized containers, vehicles, and drivers required to safely transport liquid oxygen has been a challenge. Nearly three quarters of suppliers have reported delays for this equipment and 67% reported increased costs, which causes hardship for patients who rely on supplemental oxygen and cannot get refills for home use as quickly and easily as they need.

Basic Medical Supplies: U.S. companies that sell medical supplies such as gloves, cotton swabs, gauze, and other essentials, have long relied on overseas manufacturers to produce their products. When the pandemic hit, many governments required their manufacturers to supply their own countries before servicing overseas customers, which has caused a fluctuating chain of shortage and high prices.

Walking Aids: A long list of durable medical equipment (DME) in short supply includes an acute shortage of crutches, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and braces These products are manufactured with aluminum, one of a number of raw materials in great demand, leaving some hospitals and care facilities to request donations of unused equipment from their communities. Shortages of these supplies also hampers progress in physical therapy by delaying patients’ transition from wheelchair to walker to cane, etc.

Medical Monitors: Largely due to the backlog of computer chip orders, monitoring devices for blood pressure, insulin, and other vital information are taking longer to procure and costing more. A recent survey of medical technology companies found that 100% had experienced disruptions to their semiconductor chip supply chains and that 50% of the products they produce rely on such chips.

Diagnostic Equipment: Ultrasound machines, CT scanning devices, and imaging machines also require seminconductor chips. The competitition for chips is fierce because they are also used in a mutlitude of consumer items from automobiles to video game consoles. When orders of new equipment are delayed for medical providers and there is a shortage of healthcare professionals available, patients have to wait longer for diagnostic tests, which can in turn, delay appropriate treatment.

Home Health Professionals: The heavy responsibilities and light wages that are typical for home health aides have made good help hard to find for some time. Making it worse, many home health workers left their jobs due to illness or fear of contracting illness, burnout, or the need to care for children or other relatives at home. The shortage of home health aides has continued and is causing a gap between requests for home health services and the ability of agencies to meet those requests. The problem is not expected to get better anytime soon with home health aides projected as the occupation that will have the most demand for workers over the next decade.

A number of solutions should be considered by claims professionals. For example, monitoring, measuring, and comparing network provider performance is a good way to fully optimize managed care. Capturing and analyzing relevant data such as referral acceptance, turnaround times, formulary adherence, etc. is more important than ever to ensure that quality standards are met at the lowest cost possible. Comparing metrics between vendors not only informs current management strategy, but can assist in anticipating future industry trends.