How Aging Baby Boomers Will Affect Radiology

Boomers are getting older—both as patients and as doctors. According to policy and practice experts at RSNA, in the early 1990’s, there was something of a panic at a looming radiologist shortage. 1997 was the nadir of the shortage; from 1995 to 2011, the number of total radiologists in the U.S. increased by 39.2%. (Rosencrantz, Hughes, and Duszak 2015). However, approximately a third of those radiologists are now over the age of 55 and likely considering retirement, and there is a resurgent demand for radiologists that is projected to grow as the population ages (Merrit Hawkins 2019 Review).

In addition, Boomers have generally enjoyed a high quality of living, remaining active into their golden years and reaping the benefits of Medicare. For the majority of their lifetimes, the average life expectancy has risen each year. Since they are living longer, more knee and hip replacements have performed than in prior generations. This trend, along with new technological developments, has resulted in greater utilization of imaging despite a concerted effort among physician groups to reduce the amount of imaging in medicine. In 2016, physicians ordered 51 MRIs per 1000 older adult patients (Fernandez 2019). Bottom line: more images…fewer radiologists to read them.

According to Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, and vice chair of radiology at the Indiana School of Medicine, baby boomers are more likely to be well-informed and more willing to embrace technology than their parents and grandparents. Many are more “tech savvy and able to access information online…they may be more likely to seek second (or even third) opinions.” This is yet another area where Boomers’ demand for quality health care will drive the need for AI-based technology that supports radiologists and acts as a second set of eyes to ensure accuracy in diagnoses.

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