The first baby boomers are turning 60 this year. Some question whether there will be enough health care professionals to take care of them. An aging society and increased cases of chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity are straining an already fragile health care workforce. Now, the University of Missouri-Columbia is looking at ways to write a prescription for one of the major ailments facing today?s society, according to Richard Oliver, dean of the MU School of Health Professions. MU recently spearheaded the creation of FuturePoint Summit, a national coalition of academic and business leaders in the health care field, to find solutions for the allied health workforce shortage.
?Shortages of health care professionals can result in startling and alarming consequences for health care delivery organizations, particularly in rural settings,? said Oliver, co-chair of FuturePoint Summit. ?For example, if a rural hospital has a radiologic science department of four professionals and loses two, it is experiencing a 50 percent reduction in its staff. That significant shortage will have a major impact on the ability of the hospital to provide necessary care to its patients.?
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the allied health professions represent 60 percent of the American health care workforce. Half of the fastest growing occupations in 2004 were in the allied health fields. Allied health professions include professionals in the areas of radiologic technology, clinical laboratory sciences/medical technology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, nuclear medical technology, ultrasound, respiratory therapy and speech-language pathology/audiology.
A shortage of at least 1.6 million to 2.5 million allied health workers is predicted by 2020, according to FuturePoint Summit. Allied health professionals work with children and adults of all ages who are ill, have disabilities or special needs. Their particular skills and expertise can often be a significant factor in helping people to recover movement or mobility, overcome visual problems, improve nutritional status, develop communication abilities and restore confidence in everyday living skills.
This week also marks National Radiologic Technology Week. Medical imaging is now one of the most commonly performed medical procedures, with more than 300 million exams performed annually. Medical imaging is used for everything from measuring bone density and pinpointing brain tumors to diagnosing breast cancer and checking on fetal health during pregnancy.
“Professionals in this field provide information that is pivotal in what happens to patients,? said Patricia Tew, radiography program director at MU’s School of Health Professions. ?Radiologic technologists give doctors the tools needed to assess patients and properly diagnose them.?