Poll: Should doctors be forced to treat patients promptly?

New regulations to reduce wait times for medical care in California are due to take effect next year.

Under the proposal, primary care doctors employed by HMOs are required to see patients within 10 days of the appointment request, and specialists must see patients within 15 days. Telephone calls must be returned within 30 minutes and patients needing urgent care have to be seen within 48 hours.

But will these mandates actually improve patient care?

In San Diego, patients wait an average of more than 3 weeks for a routine physical. In Los Angeles, the average approaches 2 months.

A severe shortage of doctors is primarily responsible. Replacing retiring primary care doctors is becoming increasingly difficult, as most medical students today prefer the lifestyle of specialty practice. Without additional resources to expand the primary care workforce, doctors will be forced to spend less time with more patients.

30 percent of primary care doctors plan to leave the field within 5 years because they are burned out. Asking them to do more will only worsen the situation.

And if health reform passes, the workload will increase by millions of patients.

Patient advocate groups are applauding the legislation to force prompt care. And I agree; patients need to be seen more expediently. But whether there are enough primary care doctors to meet this mandate remains very much in doubt.

I encourage you to listen and vote in this week’s poll, located both below, and in the upper right column of the blog.

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