Issues and Challenges Facing Health Care Workers

Lack of Health Insurance

More than 47 million people in the United States had no health insurance as of the beginning of 2010. This has caused many to forgo doctors' visits for preventive care. Many patients often wait until they're seriously ill before seeking care from emergency rooms, making it harder, and more expensive, to treat them. They're also more prone to contracting, and therefore spreading, infectious diseases that regular checkups, vaccines, and other health maintenance measures could often prevent, the Nursing Online Education Database points out.

Staffing Shortages

A growing shortage of physicians and nurses is making it difficult to provide top-quality health care or to provide enough where it's needed most. Fewer medical school graduates go into primary care, which is where the highest demand is. This decline grows each year, in part because primary care physicians earn far less than specialists. And, Medicare and Medicaid payments often only cover a portion of their fees.

The shortage of nurses may be even more acute. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing cited predictions that the shortage could reach 260,000 by 2025. This has been caused in part by a shortage of nursing school faculty and financial problems that prevent nursing schools from expanding and have caused some to close, a July/August 2009 "Health Affairs" journal article explains. As a result, nursing schools turned away nearly 50,000 applicants in 2008, AACN added.


As the number of health care workers dwindle, more of the burden of providing care falls on those who remain, and they then must put in longer hours and deal with a larger patient load. This affects quality of life and care and increases the risk of making potentially life-threatening medical errors. Meanwhile, about 80 million baby boomers are expected to retire by 2020. Retirees will add to the burden placed on already overstretched health care providers, New Hampshire Public Radio warns.

Rural Outreach Obstacles

Only about 10 percent of the nation's physicians choose to practice in rural areas because residents often lack health insurance and have lower incomes than urban/suburban residents, the Health Care Blog explains. Many patients have to travel many miles for care and may wait until they're seriously ill before doing so. And, areas with few drugstores make it difficult to supply patients immediately with the prescriptions they need. In some areas, small hospitals have no emergency rooms, forcing general practitioners to be on call more often to respond to medical emergencies.

Technology Challenges

Moving from manual to electronic recording of patient records would save money, increase efficiency and reduce errors--but it is difficult and expensive, a CNET news article indicates. Regulations regarding implementation vary among states and localities and those that have made the switch said doing so was more complex and expensive than they thought. And, many institutions are unwilling to absorb the costs of the conversion, the article added. The increasing number of patients that doctors and nurses must treat are affecting patient care and these workers' quality of work and life. Health care worker shortages are making these problems worse and the inability of many people to pay for health care coverage makes them hard to treat. Difficult working conditions in some parts of the country and the rising number of retirees who may need advanced care are sure to test dwindling resources, too.