Mar 7, 2022 - Health

The health worker shortage is starting to get real for Americans

Illustration of a nurse's scrubs, stethoscope and mask, standing with no nurse inside them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

More than half of all Americans say they've directly felt the effects of health care worker shortages, from canceled appointments to delayed surgeries, according to results from a CVS Health-Harris Poll National Health project provided to Axios.

Why it matters: Americans are starting to feel the impacts of the medical workforce crunch as they rearrange their care in the wake of the pandemic, leading to an even bigger supply-demand mismatch and the access issues that come with it.

What they're saying: It's "not only a problem that's been sort of hidden, but it's also causing significant sources of pain and frustration with people who really need these services," John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, told Axios.

  • "This isn't your typical consumer good. This is people's health," he said.

By the numbers: More than 2,000 adults were polled Feb. 10–15 and 45% said they'd had trouble scheduling appointments. More than one in three said their doctor was operating on reduced hours.

  • A quarter of respondents said they'd had treatments or surgeries delayed and one in five said their doctor had stopped practicing.
  • 13% said their health care facilities were closing completely.

State of play: This comes as more than 40% of respondents polled said they are reconnecting with the health system and reassessing their care after pandemic lockdowns and restrictions.

  • For instance, 47% said they were trying to stay more physically active, 43% said they were prioritizing their health habits and goals more than before the pandemic and 35% said they were buying more products to protect their health.
  • This was particularly true for Black and Hispanic Americans. A third of Black respondents (33%) and nearly a quarter of Hispanic respondents (24%) said they were visiting the doctor more. But more than half in both racial groups said they are stressed about accessing quality healthcare versus 43% of the general population.

Between the lines: Timely health care access is important since more than one in five Americans said they've skipped an annual checkup during the pandemic.

The intrigue: Consumers are less likely to tolerate or understand the source of the delays.

  • For instance, a Harris poll from January found that while 59% of consumers believe supply chain problems are understandable due to the pandemic, 41% of Americans (and 52% of millennials) don't.

The bottom line: "Patients are losing patience," Gerzema said.

Go deeper