In the Interim | Congress Ups Medicare Reimbursement, Med Students Return to ER, Docs Encouraged to Use ChatGPT & More

“In the Interim” is a snapshot of the latest and most relevant news in the locum tenens industry. No repeats, less scrolling, more knowledge. Check out the articles we found most interesting this month.   

1. A respite for healthcare: Congress agrees on Medicare pay raise for doctors amidst broader fiscal negotiations

Lawmakers have come together in a bipartisan effort to temporarily increase Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors by 1.68%, effective March 9. This adjustment is part of a broader government funding agreement designed to prevent a government shutdown and provide much-needed financial relief to healthcare providers. The decision to increase Medicare reimbursements comes at a critical juncture where the healthcare sector is grappling with the prospect of a significant physician shortage, projected to reach nearly 140,000 doctors by 2036. This move is seen as a placeholder, with broader legislative healthcare reform discussions anticipated to continue until December.

(Medriva, March 3, 2024)

2. Shortage of primary care doctors could bring crowded ERs: study

A recent University of Michigan study highlights a concerning trend: Americans living in areas with severe primary care provider shortages, both physicians and nurse practitioners, face an elevated risk of undergoing emergency surgeries and experiencing post-operative complications. This increased risk is largely due to delays in the early identification and management of serious health conditions, which, if caught in time, could prevent the escalation into emergency situations requiring surgical intervention. The research specifically looked at Medicare beneficiaries in regions identified by the federal government as “lacking adequate primary care resources.” Findings revealed that individuals in the most severely affected areas were 38% more likely to need emergency surgeries compared to 30% in less affected areas.

(US News, March 12, 2024)

3. Medical school graduates are returning to ERs

Interest in emergency medicine among new doctors is on the rise, signaling a rebound from its pandemic-era decline associated with burnout. According to recent data from The National Resident Matching Program, there’s a continuing trend of medical school graduates favoring higher-paying specialties, such as orthopedic surgery and radiology, while the percentage of filled residency slots in primary care and pediatrics declines. This year saw 95.5% of emergency medicine residency positions filled, reversing a previous two-year drop. This shift comes amidst a general increase in residency applications, particularly from international and osteopathic medical school graduates, the latter of whom often enter primary care fields. Despite nearly 94% of residency positions being filled, the need for more federal funding for new residency slots is needed to address physician shortages across the US.

(Axios, March 15, 2024)

4. Doctors are turning medical generative AI into a booming business

At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Orlando, Florida, ambient clinical documentation emerged as a leading topic among the 30,000 health and tech professionals in attendance. The innovative technology, developed by companies like Microsoft’s Nuance Communications, Abridge, and Suki, enables doctors to record patient visits, which are then automatically converted into clinical notes and summaries through artificial intelligence. Dr. Shiv Rao of Abridge highlighted the technology’s ability to let clinicians concentrate on the patient rather than paperwork, citing a reduced administrative workload as a huge benefit. Amid widespread reports of physician burnout due to administrative tasks, ambient clinical documentation is seen as a significant step towards leveraging generative AI in healthcare, improving efficiency, and potentially transforming the doctor-patient interaction.

(CNBC, March 16, 2024)

5. Primary care reaches record incoming class in 2024 Match

The 2024 Match set a record for the number of primary care positions offered, achieving a 92.9% fill rate across specialties. This milestone brings nearly 4,600 future doctors into the medical field, as celebrated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). AAFP President Steven P. Furr, MD, highlighted the unique bond family medicine creates between doctors and their communities, often treating families across generations. This year, family medicine residency programs attracted 4,595 medical students and graduates, filling a significant portion of the 5,231 slots available, indicating a strong interest in the specialty despite a slight drop in the overall primary care fill rate due to fewer filled positions in pediatrics.

Emergency medicine saw a notable rebound from a two-year decline, with a 95.5% fill rate for its offered positions. OB/GYN remains a highly sought-after field, maintaining a fill rate of more than 99% for the fifth consecutive year despite significant legal and societal changes affecting the specialty.

(Medical Economics, March 15, 2024)

6.6 stats on the shrinking physician workforce

Between 2021 and 2023, the US physician workforce saw a significant reduction, with 71,309 doctors leaving their professions, representing 6% of the total workforce, as reported by Definitive Healthcare. Burnout plays a big role in this trend, with Medscape’s “Physician Burnout & Depression Report” for 2024 revealing that 14% of male and 16% of female physicians are contemplating exiting the medical field due to severe burnout. Medscape’s “Physicians and Nonclinical Careers Report 2023” also indicated that 26% of physicians are considering shifting from clinical roles to explore nonclinical careers. Compounding all of these challenges, a 2021 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges projected that 40% of active US physicians would be 65 or older within the next decade, highlighting the aging nature of the current physician workforce and showing the urgency of addressing these issues to prevent further shortages.

(Becker’s ASC Review, March 19, 2024)

7. CDC outlines six steps hospitals can take to address burnout

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a six-step guide to enhance the professional well-being of healthcare workers in hospitals, responding to the alarming burnout rates reported among nearly half of all healthcare workers in 2022. This initiative, part of the Impact Wellbeing Campaign launched by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in October 2023, seeks to address the significant mental health challenges healthcare workers face, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and rising incidents of workplace harassment.

The guide provides a strategic framework for hospital leaders to assess and improve their operation’s support for staff well-being, emphasizing eliminating barriers to mental health care, developing effective communication tools, and integrating well-being measures into quality improvement projects. With plans to further support hospitals with a webinar series, the CDC underscores the critical importance of supporting the healthcare workforce’s mental health for the benefit of society at large.

(Healio, March 19, 2024)

8. ‘Busy’ doctors are now being told by leading medical groups it’s ok to use ChatGPT to ease workload

A major US medical organization recommends that stressed doctors use ChatGPT to efficiently alleviate their workload by summarizing complex medical studies. The platform has proven its capability by accurately interpreting and condensing research across various specialties like cardiology and psychiatry, with a 98% accuracy rate for summaries. The AI tool is seen as beneficial for clinicians to stay abreast of the latest research without the time-intensive task of reading full studies. Despite its overall 72% accuracy and commendable ability to make diagnoses, there are concerns about occasional significant inaccuracies, emphasizing how ChatGPT should not be the sole source for understanding study methods and results, particularly in critical cases. The utilization of AI, including ChatGPT, in healthcare is growing, with a notable proportion of hospitals and physicians incorporating it into their daily practice.

(Daily Mail, March 25, 2024)

That’s it for this month’s edition of In the Interim! Stay tuned for next month’s roundup of newsworthy articles for locum tenens providers. To stay in the loop on future news, follow us on LinkedIn.