In recent years, one topic has dominated the news cycle, the popular culture, and our American society at large. This discussion is not centered on the NFL, President Trump, or the newest iPhone app, but instead around the showdown of the century: the Baby Boomers vs. the Millennials. Open today’s Wall Street Journal, watch an hour of CNN or listen to some NPR, and I promise you will see or hear Millennials discussed more than once. There is an enormous fascination with this generation – my generation – and it is more than justified.
Consider this: in 2016, Millennials overtook the Baby Boomers as the largest, active workforce in America. Trends such as these will have enormous implications on everyday life for every generation. This is especially true when considering the current state of our health care system.
Consider simply the fact that an enormous number of people, the Baby Boomers, are all heading into retirement at approximately the same time, and will require additional health care as they (hopefully) continue to live full lives. This creates a mess for physician numbers. Currently, the AAMC reports that, due to this massive shift in demographics, by 2025 we will see a physician shortage of around 50,000 physicians. How we prevent this from becoming a disaster?
Every generation of physicians has hoped to improve efficiency in education, but only Millennial physicians will have been educated while totally integrated with in technology. Consider this: my dad’s first exposure to computers came in college, where he had to manually punch out cards to input data into a computer. My first experience was in 1st grade elementary computer class, with a computer that was probably considered impossible 20 years prior.
In health care, the tech that is replacing paper in hospital gets a bad rap. Technology integration in health care is meant to increase efficiency, but often its implantation does the exact opposite. The issue has always been this: the EMR and computer technology of the 21st century was placed in an arranged marriage with physicians trained in the 20th century. For the new generation of health care workers, this will not be a forced marriage, but instead a match made in heaven.
With better technology integration, perhaps we can fix our physician:patient numbers problem without actually changing our numbers. While the evolution of medical computer technology has been bumpy so far, we can probably expect it to improve as more Millennials, who grew up with this technology as a key part of their lives, mature into practicing physicians. It is my hope that this change in demographics and further improvement in technology will allow physicians to serve the growing aging population more effectively.