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Doctor visits taking longer than ever

CNN reports that despite increased medical coverage for many Americans the amount of time you may have to wait to see a doctor has dramatically increased over the last few years, especially in certain metropolitan areas. For instance, residents in Dallas may be able to see a family doctor in as little as five days, but get sick in Boston and you might have to wait up to eight weeks, especially if you are a new patient.

New evidence from Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm, suggests patients with non-emergency needs who are looking for medical care in areas such as cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family practice may wait an average of 18.5 days and the delay varies dramatically from city to city.

Why are the delays for a doctor so long?


So why the long delay to see a doctor? You’d think it would be because of a shortage of doctors, but this does not hold true in Boston, which has the most doctors per resident with 450 doctors per 100,000 residents but still has the longest delays for medical care.

The wait will be even greater for a Medicaid patient who will have problems finding a doctor willing to treat them. Critics of the program have long complained that doctors are not accepting Medicaid patients because the cost of providing the service is higher than the reimbursement rates.

Are doctors really refusing to treat Medicaid patients? Yes, in fact, Merritt Hawkins found “only 45.7% of doctors surveyed took Medicaid patients in 2013, down from 55.4% in 2009. Boston had the highest rate at 73%, while Dallas had the lowest, at 23%.”

The number of doctors who will see a Medicaid patient can also vary by medical specialty. Whether or not the doctors accept Medicaid also tends to vary substantially. For instance, 98% of Boston doctors accept Medicaid patients while only 38% of the doctors in Minneapolis do.

Will Obamacare make the situation worse?


With more patients having access to medical care the problem is expected to get much worse. Although it’s necessary to point out that the trend of increased wait times is not entirely related to the new health care law, it’s clear that demand for doctors is simply outstripping the supply.

What are doctor’s offices doing?


To combat the problem doctor’s offices are starting to give more of the responsibility for patient care to physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners. New plans to manage health care plans are also underway to push high quality, less expensive care with some plans getting financial rewards if the enrollees, or patients, stay out of the hospital.

So what do you do if you want to find a good doctor? The truth is patients who want to make sure their doctor is competent have a lot of work to do. And most of the work needs to be done while they are in good health. Start developing a patient/doctor relationship now so you do not have to scramble to find a doctor after you are sick. In fact, if you do not have a doctor it will be hard to get one on short notice. If you have a doctor they will also be able to use their network of trusted specialists for referrals
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