The wait time to get in to see your primary care doctor is expected to get even longer in the coming years.
The shortage of primary care doctors is only expected to get worse once health-care reform is enacted next year, leaving patients grappling with how and where they will get their medical care and at what cost.
“We already have a serious shortage of primary care physicians in many places in the U.S.,” says Dr. Paul Griner, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and author. “In Boston, some 90% of all primary care practices are full and trying to get a new appointment if you are new to town or changing doctors is almost impossible.”
Research estimates that over the next 15 years there will be a shortage of more than 150,000 physicians in the nation but there are options to ensure you care won’t falter if you find yourself without a primary care doctor.
Experts suggest people looking for a primary care physician get creative with their search and better evaluate what kind of doctor best fits their needs.
“People can go to a neighbor and ask them to convince their doctor to take them as a new patient or they can call around to various hospitals and find out who is taking new patients,” says Griner who also authored The Power of Patient Stories: Learning Moments in Medicine. “The can also ask their previous physician if he or she will help out by contacting a new physician.”
Online websites can make the search process more speedy and thorough.
For instance, ZocDoc, helps users find and book appointments with local doctors. The free service shows doctors’ last-minute cancellations, enabling people to see doctors within 24 to 72 hours. Calling your health insurer to find a list of applicable doctors can also help narrow a search.
“There are tons of doctors throughout the country who are still growing their practices, bringing on new patients and are invested in taking care of their local communities,” says Cyrus Massoumi, founder & CEO of ZocDoc. “They are out there, so no matter what don’t give up on booking that important care for yourself and your family.”
Patients should also consider looking outside the primary-care arena. According to health care experts, patients can see an Internist, which is a doctor that focuses on preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases that impact adults instead of a primary care physician. “An Internist can address many of the same health issues as a primary care physician,” says Massoumi.
Another option is to use a specialist, who focuses on one area of medicine be it a dermatologist, OB/GYN, or an ear, nose and throat specialist. Many specialists don’t require a referral and can be used for preventive checkups. “These specialists are a great front line of defense for early detection of health issues,” says Massoumi.
Telehealth, once known as telemedicine, involves patients getting access to doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistant via a computer and telephone. Services like NowClinic and AmeriDoc have been gaining popularity, and more are expected to be added in the future, giving people a convenient and easy alternative to visiting a doctor in an office setting. Market research firm Technavio forecasts the global telemedicine market will increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 19% between 2010 and 2014.
According to Griner, people can also get care through alternative medicine for certain illnesses. For example, the treatment for mild hypertension tends to include rest, exercise, diet and relaxation techniques to bring the blood pressure down instead of using medicine, he says. “We need to remind ourselves care is not exclusively through Western medicine,” says Griner. “More and more people are using alternative avenues as well.”