Advances in Healthcare

The Influx of Baby Boomers

Dr. HepburnThe biggest wave about to hit America’s healthcare providers is not Obamacare. It’s the influx of Baby Boomers retiring at a rate that will double or triple the number of people depending on local providers like Roper St. Francis.

It’s going to be a double-whammy when it comes to supply and demand, said Doug Bowling, CEO of Roper St. Francis Physicians Partners and the system’s chief strategy officer.

While Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are now retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, more than 35 percent of today’s doctors are over the age of 55 and will also be poised to retire in the next decade.  Bowling also points out there are not enough primary care physicians in the pipeline to make up for the growing gap.

“The equation doesn’t work,” Bowling said in a recent interview. “We’ll have much greater demand for services, and we’re going to have fewer doctors to fill the demand.”

That’s partly because today’s generation of physicians are more focused on a healthier work / life balance than their predecessors.

Doing the math, Bowling said it’s going to take three new doctors to replace two doctors who are retiring.

So, what do we do about it?

“The predominant shortage will occur in primary care because the Affordable Care Act demands a significant increase in primary care,” Bowling projected. “Healthcare is going to move away from the current ‘ad hoc’ medical system to one where patients are assigned to a primary care physician who will have a greater level of responsibility in coordinating their care.”

Currently, Roper St. Francis is looking at various models for the future to adapt to these changes.

  • One is virtual care, where a person can get on their iPhone or computer and have face time with their doctor, decide if a visit is necessary and even prescribe medications by email. “This is no problem for the younger generation,” Bowling said. “They’re already on board with that.”
  • Then there are concepts called “group visits” and “cluster visits” whereby physicians might see a group of diabetic patients on a designated day when they’re simply checking blood sugar levels and dispensing routine care. Or, they might cluster certain types of patients at certain times of the day so all the team members are present to assist. It’s just more efficient for both the patient and the doctor.
  • Nurse practitioners and physicians assistants will become even more important than they are now. Roper St. Francis already has a practice in Georgetown with a staff of eight providers (four MDs, four advanced practitioners) and it’s working well. Future practices may include doctors, advanced practitioners, a social worker, a care coordinator and a pharmacist.

“The trend right now is that admission rates in the country are actually down,” Bowling said. “That’s not because people aren’t sick. It’s because so much is now being handled in outpatient offices and facilities. And with new technologies, that’s only going to increase in the future.”It’s a great idea to find a “medical home” – a doctor you can get to know, who knows your medical history rather than always going to a different person. To find a primary care physician, visit or call 402-CARE (2273).

By Ken Burger, former Post and Courier sports columnist and local author. Reach Ken at

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