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BellaOnline's Geriatrics Editor

Impending Physician Shortage, Coming Soon

A study by the Physicians Foundation found that overall, primary care physicians are unhappy. How unhappy? So unhappy, many want to quit! Nearly half of physicians surveyed stated they plan to leave the field of medicine altogether or cut back on the number of patients they see by 2011. What a potential nightmare!

If the country is short hundreds of thousands of primary care doctors, what will the millions of Americans they currently see do for medical care? Go without needed care, use the emergency room for basic health care issues, or wait an unusually long time for an appointment to see a doctor who is still in business, all of which are unacceptable alternatives. You know those 45 minute waiting room times that end in a 5 minute face-to-face visit with your doctor? If predictions hold true, we may have to get used to a 1-2 hour wait for a 5 minute visit, and soon.

What can you do to safeguard yourself and your family members against an impending critical shortage of physicians? Develop a strategy and put plenty of time and effort into your plan. I'll get you started with a few of the most important points everyone needs to know.

1. Prepare in advance for medical visits. Don't wait until you are sitting on a cold examining room table when you are frustrated and sick to pull together the pieces of your illness. When you first become sick, start jotting down notes. Make them concise! There are few things that busy physicians hate more than having to read (or hear) a lot of irrelevant information that won't help them make the diagnosis any quicker.

2. Carry a list of your medical problems, medications (including the dosages and how often you take them), drug allergies, surgeries, and emergency contact information in your wallet at all times. If you change primary care doctors, are referred to a specialist, or just end up in the ER unexpectedly, being able to hand your doctor a sheet of paper with your health at a glance, it can save a tremendous amount of time and money. (DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF HEALTH AT A GLANCE at PatientWhiz.Biz.)

3. Know the national preventive medicine guidelines for getting and staying healthy and preventing disease. Know when you should have your next cholesterol screening and blood pressure reading. Know when (and if) you should have your next Pap smear. Know it all! Busy physicians often overlook preventive health issues. Don't assume that you are up to date on national guidelines just because you see your doctor a couple of times a year.

4. Get a copy of your doctor's office policies, or ask the office manager to go over them with you if there is no printed edition. In particular, you will should know the following:
a. Do you have to make an appointment to get refills on chronic medications?
b. What days and what part of the day is the doctor least busy and most likely to run on schedule? Some doctors round at 2 or 3 hospitals before starting their office hours, so if there is a complicated patient in the hospital, you can bet he'll start office hours later than expected. Others like to round in the evenings, so their early morning appointments are virtually always on schedule.
c. If you need paperwork filled out, do you need to make an appointment, or can you just mail in the form. (Be sure to ask what your doctor charges for filling out paperwork.)

No one knows where our health system is headed. Make it your business to be a leader, not a passive follower, in your own health care.

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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 Villani, MPA, PhD for details.

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