Report: Radiology may face supply gap in coming decade

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Demand for radiologists is expected to exceed supply by 8 to 16 percent over the next 10 years, according to a report by physician recruitment firm

The analysis—which includes information regarding trends in workforce growth, radiology salaries, productivity rates, teleradiology, practice management companies and legislative changes over the last decade— also offers a prediction of the future of radiology for the coming decade.   

Since 1997, annual procedures per radiologist have increased 16 percent (from 12,800 procedures per radiologist, up to 14,900), despite increases in vacation time used (45 percent jump; up from 27 days in 1995 to 39 days in 2007) and decreases in the number of hours worked per week (down from 57 to 50 hours). The report attributed the productivity increases to advances in PACS and imaging technology. In addition, the forecast noted that the radiology workforce has increased approximately 25 percent over the past 15 years, with approximately three quarters of radiologists working in sub-specialty areas, due to the changing technical landscape of the field.

Despite increased productivity and additional radiologists, “supply will continue to be an issue in the coming decade,” the report predicted. “A shortage similar to the one at the beginning of the century is possible by the end of the next decade [and] mounting frustrations with Medicare/Medicaid policy and an improving stock market could be the final impetus that drives still-active retirement age radiologists to hang up their lab coats for good.”

Additional factors contributing to the shortfall as noted by the report, included:

  • Radiology will be faced with more pressure with the implementation of healthcare legislation—including the HITECH Act and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPAC).
  • When PPAC’s 75 percent utilization rate assumption goes into effect, low volume imaging centers will close as reduced technical component payments go into effect.

Factors that can stimulate demand include the newly insured having disproportionately high demand for services, aging baby boomers taxing the system more than expected and Medicare cuts. The report suggested that the potentially growing demand can be met by increasing residency slots at quicker rates, extending radiologist work hours or delaying retirement by one to two years.

Teleradiology uptake in the past decade has also risen dramatically, with 67 percent of radiology practices reporting the use of teleradiology services by 2003. Moreover, the report predicted that teleradiology will continue to be an important aspect of how radiology is practiced over the next ten years, helping to cover call and supplement radiology deficits in rural settings.

“What we can expect is greater use of teleradiology, improvements in productivity rates beyond their current levels and compensation packages that will continue to attract medical students to radiology residencies,” the report concluded.