Apr 30, 2013 8:30 PM by Kathy Kuretich

Part Two: Central Coast Facing a Doctor Shortage

There is a growing shortage of primary care physicians both nationwide and here on the Central Coast.
In part two of our series The Doctor Deficit, we looked into what's being done locally, before the number gets out of control.

"I have to admit, that even our practice has started to really look at who we can accept into the practice," said Dr. Michael Schrager, family physician and President of Central Coast Family Care in Santa Maria. At 5000 patients, their office is close to capacity.
"We really have to be careful because we're really busy," he said.

The same rings true in San Luis Obispo County.

"All four hospitals in this county are working on bringing more primary care doctors to the community," said Ron Yukelson, spokesperson for Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and recruiter of doctors to the area. He said larger cities are often more attractive to primary care physicians because they simply pay more. The Federal Government uses an outdated rural reimbursement formula for the Central Coast.
"That is something that is a formula from the Federal Government that goes back to the 70's and it's just never been adjusted when it was cheaper to live in a small coastal town like San Luis Obispo," said Yukelson.

Urgent Care facilities, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants are increasingly picking up the slack. Studies show, nurse practitioner jobs are expected to grow 94 percent by 2025, and physicians assistants grew 106-percent from 2000 to 2010.

"Personally, and I hope my physicians assistant and nurse practitioner friends don't get mad at me, but I want to see the physician," said Yukelson.

But there is a bright spot for the Central Coast, the Marian Family Medicine Residency Program, which will bring in 6 medical school graduates per year. The three year program will have a total of 18 primary care residents, who will see patients at the new Dignity Health Family Medical Center.

"These are the patients that they'll follow through three years just like they're a primary care doctor with their own practice in the community. That teaches them how to practice family care medicine, said Dr. David Oates, Director of the Medical Education for Marian Medical Center.

Affiliated with Western University and soon USC, Dr. David Oates said the program will bring highly trained, quality primary care doctors to the area.
"We feel what we can do is model those residents into the kind of primary care physicians we have in our community," said Dr. Oates

He said many of those who come here for their residency end up staying. He said half of all residents choose to practice within 50 miles of their studies, which could bring some much needed relief for patients and existing doctors.
"Many of them will graduate, go out in the community and become our regular primary care doctors that we need here on the Central Coast and we know that need is going to be increasing because of the need."

The program is set to begin in about a year.
Residents will see a variety of patients, including infants, children, pregnant women, adults and the elderly.

Congress is also tackling the doctor deficit. Just last month, a House bill was introduced that would create 15,000 more primary care residency positions over the next five years. These positions would be federally supported under Medicare.



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