Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Doctor Shortage

As baby boomers (of which I am one even though I am only 37) age, they need more care. Doctors are also aging out and retiring or working part time. Some doctors are leaving practice for research or other positions where they do not have to worry about malpractice lawsuits. Medical schools are not producing enough residents to fill the void. The prediction is a shortage of 90,000 doctors in the next 8 years.

If you compound this with healthcare reform where more people will be insured and seeking medical care, who is going to care for them? Granted there are provisions for medical training as part of health care reform to produce more doctors. And you do not need a physician to be your primary care, it could also be a nurse practitioner or other trained person. But sometimes you need a doctor.

It doesn't seem like a big deal until you are trying to see your physician and you are told they are booking out 3-6 months. Then the reality sets in.

I have many doctors (in case you hadn't noticed). They are actually very good about getting me in. The way it usually works, is when I see them, we decide when I will next see them and schedule the visit for three month follow ups (if I'm lucky). My rheumatologist is impossible to get into see in less than two months. But she will call and help me by phone if needed.

Where I am treated they are pretty good about getting patients in to see their primary care in a few days or any doctor on the same day. This is to avoid trips to the ER. They also have a walk in clinic (if you don't mind waiting in line) on a first come first served basis. Some specialists can take a little longer but you can call and ask for cancellations regularly.

However as a patient, we need to be aware of this looming problem of lack of doctors. What are you going to do if you wake up one day and can't move, or have shooting pains, or a stroke or something? If you work on it now and say 'what can I do in case I have this problem?' there may be ways to avoid it.

Granted we do  not know if we are  going to need a cardiac specialist or neurosurgeon or whatever in six months. But we can look at how we structure our care now. Is your care disjointed - with one doctor here, another there, and another elsewhere? If you need a specialist where is your doctor most likely to refer you? To a doctor in the same building or to a hospital 30 miles away? How easy is it to get to see a doctor there?

Again as part of being a patient, we need to  manage our care and manage up to  make sure there are treatment options available as we age and our care gets more and more complicated.

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