Sunday, May 19, 2013

How to Fix the Primary Care Doctor Shortage


Many of the people who object to the January, 2014 implementation of the new Affordable Healthcare Act are concerned about possible doctor shortages.  This is a reasonable concern, especially for senior citizens, because a growing number of primary care physicians have already stopped accepting Medicare patients because Medicare doctor reimbursements are lower than the amount that doctors are paid by private insurance companies.  To make matters worse, according to an article entitled "How to Beat the Doctor Shortage" in the March, 2013 AARP Bulletin, more doctors than ever will be retiring in the coming decade.  Half of our country's physicians are over the age of 50. By some estimates, we already have a shortage of about 16,000 primary care doctors, especially pediatricians, internists and family doctors.  One reason for the shortage is because huge student loans force many young medical students to choose more lucrative specialties than family practice.  In other words, they feel that they simply cannot afford to practice general medicine.  When analysts look at these numbers, the situation seems dire, especially now that millions more Americans will soon become insured.

Solutions to the Primary Care Doctor Shortage

One of the lesser known provisions of our new healthcare system is that it will provide for an increase in the number of nurse practitioners and physician's assistants who are already being trained to handle routine health problems treating such as the flu, giving physicals, and supervising diets.  As a result, fewer doctors will be necessary for basic patient care.  The nurse practitioners and physician's assistants are also being trained to recognize when a patient may have a serious problem and should see a family doctor or specialist.

Another approach that is being tried in some medical schools is to shorten the length of time necessary to finish medical school.  In addition to turning out more doctors in less time, these new graduates will also have less student loan debt. 

Other ideas are also being implemented to encourage more medical students to enter general medicine.  For example, the National Health Service Corps will pay off up to $120,000  in student loans if young physicians will go to work in a community clinic, which is where many new patients will be treated in coming years.  Consequently, young medical students will no longer need to become surgeons or specialists just so they can afford to pay off their student debt.

This is an important issue, because a research study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council discovered that U.S. citizens are in poorer health and die younger than people who live in sixteen other nations, including those in Western Europe, Canada and Japan.  If we want to change this trend, our country will need to provide people with easier access to medical care.

Are You Having Trouble Finding a Doctor to Accept Medicare?

Meanwhile, if you are waiting for these new programs to increase your access to medical care, what can you do if you are on Medicare and having difficulty finding a doctor who will accept you?  Go to the Medicare.gov website and look for the "Help and Resources" page.  Click on "Find doctors, hospitals and facilities."  You will need to enter your ZIP code.  Once you do, you will see a menu of different medical specialties, including primary care.  A list of general practitioners in your area will be shown, including their contact information.  Jot down the information on two or three and call their offices to make sure they still have openings.  There are still many, many doctors who will accept Medicare payments, so don't get discouraged.

Even if you are not on Medicare, this same list is a great way for anyone to find a list of doctors in their area who may be taking new patients.  You can also call or look up your state medical association online to see if they have a directory of new doctors who are just setting up their practice. Many of these new physicians are eager to find new patients. Your insurance company is also a great resource, as well as urgent care centers, hospitals and community clinics in your area.

If you are interested in learning more about aging and retirement, check out the index articles listed below.   Each one contains additional information as well as links to more articles on that topic.

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Baby Boomers

You are reading from the blog http://baby-boomer-retirement.blogspot.com

Photo of healthcare professional courtesy of www.morguefile.com


3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this great perspective on what will be a problem for years to come. I wonder if shortening Medical School time will turn out less qualified doctors?

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  2. Thank you for charing this nice and informative blog, it's really helpful to all.
    Best primary care physicians

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  3. Diva, you make a great point about how qualified the doctors will be if we shorten the time they spend in medical school. There are no easy solutions to the doctor shortage.

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