Shortage of Doctors Who Treat Diabetes Looming

new article illustration

FRIDAY, June 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A growing shortage of endocrinologists in the United States means that patients may have to wait longer to see one of these specialists, a new study suggests.

Endocrinologists treat conditions related to hormones, including diabetes, thyroid disorders, obesity, osteoporosis and adrenal diseases.

Currently, there is a shortage of about 1,500 endocrinologists who treat adults and 100 endocrinologists who treat children. The demand for endocrinologists who treat children is expected to be met by 2016, but the shortage of endocrinologists for adults is expected to remain the same or become worse.

As the U.S. population ages, the number of older people who develop diabetes or other endocrine disorders is likely to climb, while a large number of current endocrinologists are expected to retire, according to the study released online June 18 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"There already is a significant shortage of adult endocrinologists. Without a concerted effort to recruit more endocrinologists, the gap between the number of endocrinologists and the demand for their care will increase even further and patients will struggle to get the care they need," Dr. Robert Vigersky, past president of the Endocrine Society and one of the study's authors, said in a journal news release.

"The analysis found the number of new entrants to the workforce must grow at a rate of 14 percent a year to close the gap in five years," he said.

Income is one reason for the endocrinologist shortage, according to the study. Endocrinologists tend to earn less than specialists in fields such as gastroenterology and noninvasive cardiology.

"Improved reimbursement rates that reflect the true value of endocrinologists' care are required to encourage more physicians to choose endocrinology as a specialty," noted Vigersky.

In 2012, the average wait time for adults who made a non-urgent appointment with an endocrinologist was 37 days. That wait time was the same as in 1999, despite a 52 percent increase in the number of endocrinologists who treat adults.

That may be because the newer generation of endocrinologists work fewer hours and see fewer patients than their predecessors, the study authors suggested in the news release.

"Like professionals in other industries, endocrinologists are seeking work-life balance," Vigersky said. "This trend means even more trained endocrinologists are required to serve the growing patient population."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about endocrine diseases.