Radiology business advocates implore Congress to remedy worsening physician shortages

The Radiology Business Management Association and American College of Radiology are imploring Congress to take steps that would begin addressing a deepening shortage of physicians in the U.S.

Both societies spelled out concerns in a March 17 letter to leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Top executives at ACR and RBMA cited a 2021 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. It estimated that the nation will face a shortage of radiologists and other specialists as high as 35,600 by 2024.

Other factors such as burnout and related radiologist retirements will only exacerbate these numbers, ACR’s William T. Thorwarth Jr., MD, and RBMA’s Robert T. Still contended.

“Physicians are a vital component of our nation’s healthcare infrastructure, and we have seen firsthand the worsening shortage of healthcare providers surrounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the pair wrote to committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Ranking Member Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD, R-Louisiana. “A large portion of the physician workforce is also nearing traditional retirement age, which will soon contribute to the magnitude of national workforce shortages,” they added.

The letter comes in response to a HELP Committee request for information from the healthcare industry related to labor shortages. To begin remedying the deficit, ACR and RBMA are urging Congress to reintroduce the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act. Proposed in 2021, the bipartisan bill would significantly increase the number of Medicare-supported doctor training slots to help address a “growing nationwide physician shortage crisis,” lawmakers said at the time.

ACR and RBMA commended the federal government for committing to invest $1.8 billion to create 1,000 new residency slots—the first such increase in 25 years. However, the feds have placed numerous restrictions on this money, steering much of it toward primary care, mental health and rural geographies.

“While there is a definite need to focus on mental health and psychiatry, several specialties are missing out on new residency slots,” Thorwarth and Still wrote. “We recommend that Congress pass legislation to fund [graduate medical education] slots specifically designated for radiology].”

ACR highlighted the letter in a Thursday, March 23, news update. Bob Still on Friday called this a “critical issue” impacting the specialty.

“The workforce issues we face need to be addressed, and this broader conversation is a catalyst that should benefit all sectors of healthcare,” he told Radiology Business.

Marty Stempniak

Marty Stempniak has covered healthcare since 2012, with his byline appearing in the American Hospital Association's member magazine, Modern Healthcare and McKnight's. Prior to that, he wrote about village government and local business for his hometown newspaper in Oak Park, Illinois. He won a Peter Lisagor and Gold EXCEL awards in 2017 for his coverage of the opioid epidemic. 

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