A growing shortage of allergists in the United States may soon impact the quality of patient care for asthma and other allergic diseases, according to a report published by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
“Without intervention, the number of allergy-immunology specialists is projected to decline by 7 percent while demand will increase by 35 percent over the next dozen years,” said ACAAI President Daniel Ein, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and chief of the division of allergy at GWU Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
“The decline in the number of qualified allergists-immunologists is primarily due to the decrease in Graduate Medical Education (GME) training programs because of limited federal funding. To cover attrition and keep up with the growing demand, training programs must increase their graduation rate by 120 allergy-immunology physicians each year,” Dr. Ein said.
According to the report, titled “Allergist Report: America Faces Allergy/Asthma Crisis,” current production cannot keep up with demand. Attrition will result in an estimated net loss of 20 allergists annually, while 100 additional allergists per year will be needed to meet the rising demand.
“The shortage of allergist-immunologists is part of a developing general shortage of physicians which is more pronounced in some specialties like allergy-immunology and others,” said co-author of the report, John E. Moffitt, M.D., professor and vice chairman, Department of Pediatrics, and director of Allergy-Immunology Division in Pediatrics, University of Mississippi School of Medicine, Jackson. “Though the shortage of allergists does not presently affect all locations, it is widespread and growing worse.”
“The report and companion patient brochure are a call to action by health care professionals and patients impacted by allergic diseases. We urge them to call and work with their congressional delegations to develop and support legislation which will increase funding for Graduate Medical Education programs in allergy-immunology so care will be available to those who need it in the future,” Dr. Moffitt said.
Asthma and other allergic diseases have become more prevalent in the United States in recent years. They affect as many as 50 million people, or more than 20 percent of the population. The incidence of asthma alone has more than tripled over the past 25 years and currently affects more than 22 million Americans.
An allergist-immunologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases. The allergist is specially trained to identify the allergic and non-allergic factors that trigger asthma and other allergic diseases. Allergists help people treat or prevent their allergy problems. After earning a medical degree, the allergist-immunologist completes a three-year residency training program in either internal medicine or pediatrics. Next the allergist completes two or three more years of study in the field of allergy-immunology in order to prepare for certification by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.
In order to increase the number of training programs in the system, the College recommends undertaking a large scale coordinated public-private initiative to fund additional GME positions, and is bringing this to the urgent attention of federal policy makers. The College is taking the lead by funding 20 allergy-immunology 2-year fellowship training positions from 2005-2009 at a total cost of $2 million. However, this is only a beginning.
“We at American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology are eager to participate in efforts to find solutions for this pressing problem. It calls for immediate action before patients are put at risk because of a shortage of qualified allergists in their area,” Dr. Ein said.
A copy of the report is available on the ACAAI member information Web site at www.acaai.org. It provides details on the allergist-immunologist workforce shortage and examines what currently is being done and what needs to be done now and in the future.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research.