Smart patients need to establish a relationship with a primary care doctor

Good primary care physicians are becoming harder and harder to find.

You may not have noticed it yet, but I predict that a year from now we’ll find it almost impossible to find primary care doctors who are willing to take on new patients – at least any primary care doctor worth seeing won’t be doing so.

Smart patients and their advocates know that today is the day to be sure they have good relationships established with primary care doctors.

Why? Two major reasons

First comes the fact that medical students spend some time in school, then choose their specialty area.  They contrast the excitement of surgery or saving a heart patient’s life, with the sniffly noses and broken legs of primary care. Then they figure out that as a surgeon or neurosurgeon, it will take them only a handful of years to repay their student loans.  As primary care doctors, who make far less than their specialist counterparts, it will take more like 15 or 20 years to repay those loans.

So what would you choose to do?  So few medical students are choosing primary care these days, and so many are retiring, or leaving their practices, that the numbers of primary care doctors in the United States are horribly low.  Estimates tell us we have between 15,000 and 20,000 TOO FEW primary care doctors in America.

The second reason is not an inside influence, but one that comes from the outside — WE are the reason.  As the numbers of available primary care doctors dwindle, the numbers of people who need their help are climbing.

Baby boomers are aging – and the older we get, the more appointments, tests, procedures and follow up appointments we seem to need. The more we need, the fewer there are for others.

But the biggest hit primary care will take will not be from baby boomers.  It will be from the 30+ million Americans who have not had insurance, but will have access to doctors once healthcare reform kicks in – between now and 2014.

All those new patients – and fewer primary care doctors.  You do the math.

Smart patients know they need to establish a good relationship with a primary care doctor right away, if they don’t already have one.  Make an appointment to get a check-up or to check out some dumb, nagging symptom you’ve tried to ignore.  Then be sure you find a reason to get in to see that primary once or twice a year, otherwise you may end up being dropped from his or her roster of patients.

Smart advocates know that their client-patients need to have that relationship established, and will make sure their clients get that relationship established if it doesn’t already exist.

In fact, that may be what distinguishes you – and makes you the hero advocate – making sure that relationship gets established.  Because once it’s impossible to do, you, the advocate, will get credit for making it happen when it was most important.

•  Learn more about why it’s difficult to get a primary care appointment.

•  Learn more about choosing a new doctor.

Trisha Torrey blogs at AdvoConneciton and is the author of You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes (How to Fix Them to Get the Healthcare You Deserve).

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