Aging Population and Rise in Elective Surgery Drive Demand for CRNAs

Aging Population and Rise in Elective Surgery Drive Demand for CRNAs

Demand for certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) is rising rapidly, according to Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician and advanced practitioner search firm, driven by an aging population needing more healthcare services, a rise in elective procedures, and the effort to control costs throughout the healthcare industry.

Each year, Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company, releases a report examining physician and advanced practitioner recruiting trends. The “2019 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives” includes a list of the 20 medical and advanced practice specialties for which it received the most recruiting requests. This “top 20” list provides a key indicator of which types of doctors and advanced practice professionals are in the most demand. For the 13th consecutive year, family medicine was at the top of the list, followed by psychiatry, which was second for the fourth year in a row.

The 2019 Review also shows that for the first time since 2009, both anesthesiologists and CRNAs were among Merritt Hawkins’ top 20 most requested type of searches. The number of CRNA searches the firm was engaged to conduct more than doubled year-over-year while the number of anesthesiology searches grew by about 80%.

The fact that both anesthesiology and CRNAs were on the list confirms the growing demand for anesthesia providers nationwide. Merritt Hawkins has observed a growing demand among its clients for CRNAs over the last several years that reflects an overall growth in the need for anesthesiology and other forms of specialty care.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in its April 2019 report on physician supply and demand, projects a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032. This includes a shortage of up to 55,000 primary care physicians, but an even greater shortage of up to 77,000 medical specialists.

The shortage of specialists is driven largely by population aging. Approximately 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and this age cohort utilizes medical services at a considerably higher rate than younger age groups. People 65 and older visit a physician at three times the rate of those 30 and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While seniors represent only 14% of the population, they generate 37% of diagnostic tests and treatments, and 34% of inpatient procedures, many of which require anesthesia, the CDC reports.

Merritt Hawkins’ search engagements reflect the growing need for specialty care. In its 2019 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives, Merritt Hawkins reported that 78% of its search engagements over the previous 12 months were for specialists, up from 67% four years ago.

More Elective Procedures, Cost Control

Utilization of specialty services, including anesthesia, also has been driven upward by years of economic growth following the recession, which have given patients the option of undergoing more elective procedures requiring anesthesia. The proliferation of sites of service providing consumer convenience, such as urgent care centers, and the rise of hospital outpatient services, also drives the utilization of procedures requiring anesthesia. Demand for CRNA services, in particular, is further driven by the lack of anesthesia providers in rural areas, which are often entirely reliant on CRNAs.

The continual effort of healthcare facilities to cope with rising costs and flat or declining reimbursement also stimulates demand for CRNAs, who are paid considerably less than anesthesiologists while providing many of the same services. Outcomes data generally are positive for CRNAs indicating they are a fit for emerging quality/value-based reimbursement models.

More data and analysis regarding the growing demand is included in the Merritt Hawkins’ white paper “CRNA Supply, Demand, and Recruiting Trends.”