The acute shortage of general surgeons is evident in the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics which states that only 5% of physicians were general surgeons in the year 2007, and the situation has not improved since. In fact, the shortage of general surgeons is getting worse and is projected to worsen in the future. The role of a general surgeon cannot be underestimated in a country where the population is increasing and millions more are receiving health insurance due to the reforms. The population of the country is estimated to grow by more than 30 million by the year 2020 and the country’s baby boomer population and the population of old people would be very high. This would certainly put humungous pressure on general surgeons and have manifold consequences for general surgeons as well as for the health industry.
The problems of general surgeons don’t just stop at the shortage and the endless work hours but extends towards many challenges that are unique to this specialty. In rural areas as well there is a higher shortage of general surgeons. An article in the Archives of Surgery called The Increasing Workload of General Surgery gives some facts about the future of this specialty. According to the article, the workload of general surgeons will increase by 31.5% between 2000 and 2020 with the amount of workload growth varying among the five different types of surgeries that are taken into account from 19.9% to 40.3%.
This increasing workload is affecting hospital emergency rooms the hardest since most surgeries are performed in bigger hospitals and also due to the fact that general surgeons usually determine whether or not to operate on a patient in emergency rooms. This increased demand and shortened supply of general surgeons would not only cause detrimental health consequences for the general populace in the future but also cause huge financial damage to almost all entities involved in the healthcare system.
The challenges facing general surgery are numerous; however, all is not lost for hospitals and physicians, at least on the financial side, due to the helping hand provided by the government in the form of incentives for implementation of EHR/EMR systems, ‘Meaningful Use’, reforms in payment structures and such other incentives. However, implementation of these systems and policies completely depends on streamlining all the departmental processes such as revenue cycle management, selecting an appropriate EHR or EMR system, denial management, interaction with payers and medical billing and coding. Outsourcing these processes would not only reduce the workload of the hospitals in general but also provide the opportunities, time, and resources for the challenges faced by general surgeons in aspects of healthcare delivery along with improving hospital revenue generation.
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