Apr 29, 2013 7:30 PM by Kathy Kuretich
Have you had to wait an unusual amount of time to get an appointment with your doctor, or have you had trouble finding one at all?
There seems to be a reason for that.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there's a critical shortage of primary care physicians on the Central Coast.
And the problem is projected to get a lot worse.
"I waited 3 hours and literally was seen for about five minutes," said Daniel Mediano of Grover Beach when describing his latest trip to a local health clinic, after not being able to get an appointment with his primary care doctor for severe headaches.
"Have some pills, go home, if it gets life threatening we'll send you to a specialist who'll never get back to you," said Mediano.
After a return visit to the clinic, and phone calls to a neurologist, Mediano is still waiting for answers.
"Nobody should have to feel that way when they're in pain and they need help," he said.
He believes his doctor's office is overwhelmed and the same is true at the local clinics.
"Actually so much so that people had trouble finding seats in the waiting room," he said.
"It's a huge problem. All of my colleagues in town on the Central Coast, we're all busy," said Dr. Michael Schrager, family physician and President of Central Coast Family Care in Santa Maria. He said his office sees about 5000 patients, which consists of two doctors and two mid-level providers.
"It's a lot, it's a busy practice," said Dr. Schrager.
According to the California Healthcare Foundation, the Central Coast, at just 54 is well below the recommended level of 60-80 primary care physicians per 100,000 people.
"We have one of the lowest reimbursed areas from Medicare in the United States. And that makes absolutely no sense, but the system was set up over 25 years ago," said Dr. Schrager.
That's just one reason for the shortage.
Researchers from the American Medical Association found less than 20-percent of graduating medical students choose primary care... add an aging population and 30 million more Americans required to have insurance under the Affordable Care Act... and the number of available physicians will continue to dwindle.
Studies project a nationwide shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020.
Ron Yukelson, spokesperson for Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center said they hear the complaints.
"We're told that primary care doctors have their practices closed to new patients or they're not taking new medicare patients or form of insurance or there's a 3 week, 4 week, 5 week wait to get into see your doctor for something routine like a physical," he said.
And on the Central Coast, he said doctors earn 7-percent less than those in Los Angeles and 23-percent less than those in the Bay Area. As a recruiter of doctors, Yukelson said that makes his job difficult.
"Sometimes my opening line to them was come to San Luis Obispo, earn less, pay more to live. It wasn't a good starting point."
And one more reason for the deficit - the aging population has affected physicians as well - and many are retiring. According to the Rural Health Research Center, one in three primary care physicians are over the age of 60.
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