NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Diabetes is a huge and growing burden. Twenty-nine million Americans have it, which is three million more than just a few years ago. The number of doctors who specialize in diabetes and other hormone conditions isn't keeping up with the demand for care.
Sherry Abernathy considers herself fortunate to have her endocrinologist, Dr. Richard Hellman, at North Kansas City Hospital.
"Takes a while to see him," said Abernathy.
It had been up to a six-month wait for appointments. A new analysis from the Endocrine Society finds America has a shortage of 1,500 endocrinologists for adults, and the shortage will worsen as more older Americans develop type-two diabetes and more of the specialists retire.
"And I worry about my patients," said Dr. Hellman.
Sherry worries, too.
"He's gonna go away from me someday and I'm very concerned about that," she said.
Dr. Hellman says endocrinologists are needed more than ever as the complexity of diabetes care grows.
"It's impossible for a primary care physician to keep up with a single area because it's not just diabetes," he said.
Dr. Hellman has significantly reduced the waits for his patients by adding more nurses and other professionals to provide some of the care. But he says the country must invest more in education and training of endocrinologists, and in reimbursements for them. They have the second-lowest income of all specialties which makes it unappealing to medical school graduates with big debt.
The doctor also know that solving the shortage comes down to Americans improving their lifestyles and preventing type two diabetes.
"Reducing your weight, increasing the physical activity. That has the most powerful effect," Dr. Hellman said.
That could result in fewer people needing to see an endocrinologist.