From the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology
My mind couldn’t help doing some math as the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) presented its first-ever Award for Public Leadership in Rheumatology to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) this week at its annual meeting in San Francisco. Rep. Eshoo lamented the small numbers of rheumatologists; the ACR honored her and Kennedy for co-sponsoring a bill that could provide incentives to boost the number of rheumatologists, among other things.
Yet the ACR meeting broke attendance records, with 15,000 people registered. If there are so few U.S. rheumatologists, who are all these people?
Rep. Eshoo said there are around 4,000 U.S. rheumatologists who treat adults, which jives with numbers reported by the ACR in 2005, though folks in the ACR press room say the number now may be closer to 5,000. Several hundred of those don’t see patients, though. The numbers of U.S. pediatric rheumatologists are even worse — 218 according to that ACR report, only 200 of whom see patients. Rep. Eshoo noted that eight states have no pediatric rheumatologists at all. (That number was 13 states in a report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which said we need hundreds more pediatric rheumatologists.)
So what, you may ask? There are more than 46 million U.S. adults living with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions (more than 21% of the population), and that number is expected to grow to 67 million by 2030. And there are around 285,000 U.S. kids with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or other rheumatic diseases, according to the HHS report. You do the math — 4,000 docs for 46 million adults, and 200 docs for 285,000 kids.
The ACR Press Room staff estimated that 3,000 of the 15,000 people at the meeting were U.S. rheumatologists, and 1,200 were “rheumatology professionals” (nurses, techs, and others who work in rheumatology practices). More than 2/3 of attendees were from other countries or industry groups (such as pharmaceutical companies), but mostly rheumatologists from outside the U.S., many of them from Europe.
Could rheumatology become another area where we see a rise in medical tourism, as the number of aging (and arthritic) Americans climbs?