We’ve all heard it—and experienced it: Doctors really are crunched for time. Into each short patient visit, a doctor must somehow listen carefully enough to catch health-related bits of conversation you may not know are relevant, examine you thoroughly enough to catch subtle diagnostic clues, remember your full history and relate it to your current problem, swiftly make decisions about medications that can be added without dangerous interactions or side effects, and order lab tests and x-rays if necessary—all while keeping in mind what your particular insurance will cover.
When approximately 30 million currently uninsured Americans gain health coverage beginning in 2014, the intention is that better preventive care will create less need for expensive hospitalizations, and that emergency rooms will not serve as primary care physicians for most of our population. This should lead to a healthier population and a healthier economy.
But will there be enough physicians to serve everyone? The American Medical Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine all say “no.” And although Columbia Business School researchers speculated recently that physician shortages could be made up by using more physician assistants and nurse practitioners (among other interventions), the groups mentioned above think not.
There are already too few doctors. Rural areas have been affected for years by physician shortages, and larger population centers like Detroit and Las Vegas are beginning to suffer as well. Primary care or “family” physicians are the least available already, and 52,000 of the 130,000 physician vacancies projected by the year 2025 will be in primary care.
As a nurse, I support the broad use of nurse practitioners. However, while nurse practitioners can serve the primary care needs of many with great skill, it’s important to keep in mind that a family physician completes 21,700 hours of education and clinical training, while a nurse practitioner completes an average of 5,400 hours of the same. The two roles are complementary, but not interchangeable.
So, what can you do now to prepare?
1) Find a primary care physician now if you do not have one. Establish that relationship before 2014, even if you are not ill presently. If you already have a PCP, but are not satisfied with care OR you suspect your PCP may retire in the near future, consider changing your physician now rather than next year or after.
2) Organize your health information. This is particularly important if you have one or more chronic health conditions. Starting next year, details may slip through the healthcare cracks even more than they do presently. If you are the “detail-oriented” person in your family, set yourself to the task of organizing your family’s health history on paper and keeping it up to date. This should include your notes about doctor and therapy visits, as well as a current medications listing (with dosages).
3) Be vigilant. Do not expect the medical records kept by your physicians and hospitals to be completely accurate—I can assure you they frequently are not. Yet these records are what doctors and hospitals must rely on in an emergency. Request copies of your records as often as possible, so that you can spot correct any inaccuracies. If you need help with this process, we’re here to help.
If these tasks seem overwhelming for you or for a senior loved one, consider asking ConciergeCare to act as your “patient portal” for medical records organization and for creating and maintaining an evolving health record for you. An advocate can ensure that your information is accurately presented to your entire health care team, decreasing the likelihood of medical errors and misdiagnoses.
BOTTOM LINE: Help your doctors help you!