Today, baby boomers make up more than 28 percent of the total U.S. population. As members of this generation grow older and reach retirement, they present a unique challenge and opportunity for the health care industry.

“We’ve known for some time that the primary care doctor shortage was coming, but we have not anticipated was how significant the specialty care shortage was going to become,” Gupta explains. The Association of American Medical Colleges projected that the U.S. will face a shortage of 61,700 to 94,700 doctors over the next decade. “No matter how much health care changes and becomes more dependent on technology, we’re still going to have a shortage of health care professionals — and it’s up to the policy makers to make sure we can start to fill that demand.”

Working together

Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon and award-winning medical correspondent, believes the first step to narrowing the growing care gap is an increased focus on collaboration.

“Not only do you have primary doctors working separately from specialty care doctors, all too often medical care and nursing care is separated,” he explains. “I think that needs to change.”

When it comes to primary care, our current system doesn’t always provide the most effective or efficient route to care, which is why many clinics are adopting a patient-centered approach. “I don’t think that the medical system of tomorrow will be able to navigated by any individual; it is going to require a team-based approach.”

“‘... most health care professionals are going to be coaches; people who keep up with a patient’s health all the time ...’”

The role of technology

From using your smartphone to skip the waiting room to sharing data with clinicians from home, Gupta believes that technology will continue to play a central role in containing costs and improving outcomes.

“There are now trackers that patients can use at home, and that data can be contextualized and sent to their health care providers so that we don’t just see the patient once they’re sick, but we have a pretty good idea of how they’re doing when they’re not in the hospital or clinic,” he outlines. By doing so, he continues, “we can predict and prevent the problems; and that will offset the strain on the health care system.”

MAKING A PLAN: Gupta discussed his predictions with former President Obama at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit last spring.

The next generation

Thankfully, students across the country are showcasing a renewed interest in careers in health care. “I think that the health care professional of tomorrow will be more than someone who makes diagnoses and treats disease,” he predicts. “I think that most health care professionals are going to be coaches; people who keep up with a patient’s health all the time, not only when they’re sick.”

The front lines of health care are more diverse than they’ve ever been, but despite differences in background and education, Gupta believes that there is something that most of these students have in common.

“People who enter the world of health care are self-starters; people who demonstrate discipline… they’re lifelong learners,” he outlines. “I think that they are persistent people who have a lot of drive, and yet still recognize how amazing the experience of being a medical professional is; how incredible it is to be able to understand the human body and care for it and still maintaining a sense of wonderment around it.”