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BellaOnline's Geriatrics Editor

Primary Care Physicians, an Endangered Species?

When I was a little girl I loved visiting my father at his medical office. I was highly impressed with his vocabulary, though I rarely knew what those big words really meant. Nevertheless, words that long had to be important, or so I thought. Strangers came up to me on the street regularly and told me about how my father had helped them. I was so proud of my father that I decided I wanted to be just like him when I was in elementary school. What could be more rewarding than helping other people every day?

It was easy to choose a specialty in medical school. I wanted to be on the front lines. I wanted to be a primary care physician. My passion for primary care was undeniable when I first started. Over time, the excessive paperwork, the decreasing reimbursements from insurance companies in the face of ever-increasing overhead expenses, and the great deal of time I spent away from my family, among other issues, made me reconsider my choice. I am one of a multitude of physicians who have decided that primary care medicine is not for them.

In America, medical residents tend to shy away from this field and many practicing physicians are looking for ways to get out of the field altogether or change the way they practice. The bottom line is that experts predict a potentially catastrophic shortage of primary care physicians in the near future. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimated that 45,000 more primary care physicians would be needed by 2020 just to keep up with the demand prior to the Affordable Care Act. With millions more Americans being insured, more will be seeking primary care services (hopefully), putting an even greater strain on an overburdened profession. In other countries, seeing a primary care physician may be next to impossible, or, in some cases, it is far easier than in the United States.

While efforts are being made to increase training slots for primary care doctors, these efforts will not be enough to address the huge shortage on the horizon. Individual citizens must play a vital role in fighting this battle in order to minimize collateral damage.
Tips to help your doctor help you:
• Prepare for visits to the doctor in advance. Don’t wait until you are sitting on a cold examining table, fuming that your doctor is running so far behind to think about what you want to say. Rehearse you “elevator speech” so you will be able to explain your problems in a concise, yet detailed manner.
• Prioritize your concerns. Your time may be limited so be prepared to discuss you concerns.
• Always keep a mini-medical record in your wallet. This can take the form of a sheet of paper with your medications (include dosage and frequency, and the reason you take each medication), chronic medical conditions, drug allergies, doctors’ contact information, pharmacies you use, and your emergency contact information. You never know when you may unexpectedly end up in an emergency room and you cannot assume your doctor will be available 24/7.
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Content copyright © 2013 by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia J. Villani, MPA, PhD for details.

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