As the population continues to age, the need for medical care goes up, but it's coming at a time when there's a shortage of doctors.

Hospitals in La Crosse have been trying to combat the shortage for few years now, but that may not be the only change they're facing. The evolving model of patient care could play a big role in how many doctors are needed in the future.

Finding replacements for retiring physicians hasn't really been a problem at Gundersen Health System.

“Historically, we've been able to recruit enough to replace that number and also grow small incrementally above that,” said Jon Nevala, from Gundersen.

About 20 to 25 physicians retire every year from Gundersen and that number is rising.

Nevala said it's become increasingly difficult as the number of retirees grows and the talent pool dwindles.

“There's a shortage because there certainly is fewer people, fewer physicians available for the talent,” said Nevala. “(It’s) simple supply and demand right now. There's more people retiring and fewer of them coming into the equation.”

A new study from Deloitte Center for Health Solutions suggests more doctors will retire earlier than usual in the next few years.

Nevela said Gundersen's recruiting process has changed in order to compete with the same shortage seen around the nation mainly in primary care for rural communities.

“We've typically recruited them a year in advanced of their graduation,” said Nevala. “These days we've seen that process be pushed out 2-4 years.”

Along with a longer recruiting process, Gundersen has also provided more incentives to attract more recruits including student debt relief.

David Rushlow from Mayo Clinic Health System said there may be a better way to care for patients.

“We may not be able to supply the total need in the current model, but in the future model, in that concept of teams, professions such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be used more to help take care of that,” said Rushlow.

Rushlow said physicians working in teams are being used in many hospitals across the nation.

It's also being piloted at Mayo.

“Physicians can't do it by themselves,” said Rushlow. “We have to rely on teams of providers to care for patients.”

While it's not certain this model is the route all health organizations will take in the future, Rushlow said what's important is what's best for the patient.

The study also suggests some trade-offs with the future team-work model of patient care.

It said some physicians are concerned about losing their independence and their personal relationship with patients.

At the same time, physicians also gain a network of expertise and help.