WHILE THERE’S BEEN PLENTY of publicity about the growing shortage of medical technologists (MT) and medical laboratory technicians (MLT), less attention has been paid to the factors which brought about this situation.
For example, a careful study of ASCP (American Society of Clinical Pathologists) data going back to the 1950s reveals some interesting facts. There was a “demographic bulge” of baby boomers earning med tech certification. In the years 1974-1984, 100,745 people certified as MT or MLT. This is 57% of the 177,745 people who earned such designations between 1974 and 1999. These people, if still working in clinical labs, already have between two and three decades of work experience.
Fewer Enter Lab Field
This data also confirms the decline in new people entering the field. In 1999, the number of newly-certified MTs was 2,216, the lowest number since 1958, when 2,188 MTs were certified. During the peak years of the 1970s and early 1980s, around 6,000 individuals per year were certified as MTs.
In a useful analysis of ASCP certification data going back to 1930, Pennell C. Painter, Ph.D. makes some interesting conclusions. He observes that the number of MT/MLT certifications began climbing after 1966. He attributes this to the launch of Medicare, a government program “that stimulated almost 20 years of increases in utilization and profitability in virtually all medical services.” (See www.ivdtrials.com/TechStaff.htm.)
Painter also observes that the annual number of MT/MLT certifications dropped noticeably, beginning in 1983. Within four years, the number of new MT/MLT certifications had dropped by 50% from the level seen the previous ten years. He attributes this decline to Medicare’s implementation of DRGs for inpatient services and the corresponding reduction in profits from many clinical services.
Market Forces Are Working
THE DARK REPORT believes these raw statistics have another lesson to teach. Government funding of healthcare during the 1966 to 1983 period provided an artificial incentive to shift economic resources into healthcare. Not surpris- ingly, med tech certifications responded to the employment opportunities.
From 1983 onward, when govern- ment reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid began to decline, those economic signals discouraged new people from entering the clinical lab field. The mass layoffs from commercial lab consolidation and hospital lab consolidation during the past 15 years are further validation of this economic dynamic.
Taken together, the trends of the 1970s and 1980s do provide evidence that market forces will act to expand the number of trained med techs as they are needed, just as they have for the past 40 years.