Shortage of Doctors Growing

. Tuesday, November 18

Just two weeks ago, I visited my general practitioner/primary care doctor for prescription updates. There was nothing medical about this very brief consultation beyond the usual weight, temperature, blood pressure and pulse checks. While in the exam room with me, he sat at a computer and typed his notes while we talked, if you want to call it that. This chunk of time less than 5 minutes cost me $86 since I have no health insurance.

To his credit, my doctor's office is equipped with a lab, x-ray, EKG and procedures room. It wasn't that long ago that these basic diagnostic procedures were only available in hospitals which meant quite a bit of wasted time between onset and diagnosis of anything not visible to the naked eye. Though my particular appointment did not require any diagnostic testing, I'm glad it's there and available.

The cost of the appointment brought a moan from me. But, I know that what my doctor receives from Medicaid and Medicare is a paltry $17 with the same 19 percent reimbursement rate for any service rendered across the board. I don't suppose health insurance of any sort pays him that $86 office charge either.

Now, a recent survey of primary care physicians found that 60 percent of them are planning to cut back or quit medicine entirely. They are overworked, overwhelmed and underpaid, and responsible for so much paperwork that more time is spent filling out forms than spent with patients. There are far more specialists than primary care doctors, and the shortage is getting worse.

Including Obama's proposed health care changes, the only thing addressing this critical issue is the proposed switch to electronic medical records. It's surprising to me that such a highly technical field as medicine still uses the antiquated pen and paper for records keeping. But, I doubt that streamlining the paperwork will be enough to address the issue of the shortage of general practitioners and internists.

I don't know much about the issue of health care that Obama will throw on the table next year. But, I do feel that it is an issue worth keeping a close eye on.