Doctors shunning geriatric medicine

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Lack of specialists raises concerns for seniors’ health care.

Arthur Altbuch was among the 1,678 doctors who, in 1989, became the first in the nation to be certified in geriatric medicine, then an emerging specialty focused on the health care of older persons.

The move made sense to Altbuch, a young physician who had just opened a family medical practice in Lake Worth. Most of his patients were seniors, and, with the aging of Baby Boomers, he would have plenty of work well into the future.
Despite the potential, few doctors have followed in Altbuch’s footsteps — a fact that some medical experts believe will have a huge effect on health care for Boomers, expected to number about 71 million by 2030.

Promoters of geriatric medicine long have been concerned by the imbalance between the number of geriatricians, and patients who need their expertise.

A 2005 American Geriatrics Society report found that of more than 650,000 practicing physicians nationwide, fewer than 7,000 were certified geriatricians, or one for every 5,000 Americans age 65 and older. And it appears the slim ranks have been shrinking recently.

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