Caring for the critically ill patient. Current and projected workforce requirements for care of the critically ill and patients with pulmonary disease: can we meet the requirements of an aging population?

JAMA. 2000 Dec 6;284(21):2762-70. doi: 10.1001/jama.284.21.2762.


Context: Two important areas of medicine, care of the critically ill and management of pulmonary disease, are likely to be influenced by the aging of the US population.

Objective: To estimate current and future requirements for adult critical care and pulmonary medicine physicians in the United States.

Design, setting, and participants: Analysis of existing population, patient, and hospital data sets and prospective, nationally representative surveys of intensive care unit (ICU) directors (n = 393) and critical care specialists (intensivists) and pulmonary specialists (pulmonologists) (n = 421), conducted from 1996 to 1999.

Main outcome measures: Influence of patient, physician, regional, hospital, and payer characteristics on current practice patterns; forecasted future supply of and demand for specialist care through 2030. Separate models for critical care and pulmonary disease. Base-case projections with sensitivity analyses to estimate the impact of future changes in training and retirement, disease prevalence and management, and health care reform initiatives.

Results: In 1997, intensivists provided care to 36.8% of all ICU patients. Care in the ICU was provided more commonly by intensivists in regions with high managed care penetration. The current ratio of supply to demand is forecast to remain in rough equilibrium until 2007. Subsequently, demand will grow rapidly while supply will remain near constant, yielding a shortfall of specialist hours equal to 22% of demand by 2020 and 35% by 2030, primarily because of the aging of the US population. Sensitivity analyses suggest that the spread of current health care reform initiatives will either have no effect or worsen this shortfall. A shortfall of pulmonologist time will also occur before 2007 and increase to 35% by 2020 and 46% by 2030.

Conclusions: We forecast that the proportion of care provided by intensivists and pulmonologists in the United States will decrease below current standards in less than 10 years. While current health care reform initiatives and modification of existing practice patterns may temporarily forestall this problem, most anticipated effects are minor in comparison with the growing disease burden created by the aging US population. JAMA. 2000;284:2762-2770.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Critical Care*
  • Critical Illness / epidemiology
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Forecasting
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / trends*
  • Health Workforce*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases / therapy
  • Models, Statistical
  • Physicians / supply & distribution
  • Pulmonary Medicine*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • United States / epidemiology