Too many patients

The place where I live is surrounded by medical care. The campus of a major university lies three miles from my front door. Another is less than 10 miles away. Both include sprawling medial centers, huge teaching hospitals, specialty hospitals, clinics, labs, schools of medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy, you name it.

These two behemoths compete for patients and dollars. They have sprouted multiple satellite centers to bring medical care closer to us, the patients. Ask any member of the aging population of this area why they chose to live here and they will cite the excellent medical care.

If only we patients have the patience to wait for it. Visits “to the doctor” require this. I could cite numerous examples, but one will do. Two days ago, I showed up for a morning appointment to be examined by my ophthalmologist, who is monitoring my age-related macular degeneration. I really like this doctor, a caring, highly competent physician, who wants to do everything possible to contain any advances in my condition. But to get to see her, I had to be seen by a receptionist (of course, to check in and pay my co-pay), followed by a series of medical professionals that included a certified scribe and a technician before I actually made contact with my physician. Needless to say, there was a lot of waiting to advance along these steps to my actual examination and consultation.

The clinic’s multiple waiting areas all were full or nearly so for the duration of my visit, which lasted more than three hours. As one friendly doctor acknowledged with a wry smile, this medical staff is trying to serve too many patients. This is true everywhere, it seems. Several of the doctors who have cared for Betsy and me have retired recently, which adds to the shortage. And we are living longer, which means more of us are still around, needing medical care.

What’s the solution? Our medical schools are turning out large numbers of new professional caregivers every year. Two of the nation’s largest are within 10 miles of my home. In a community widely known for its excellent medical care, we have a supply and demand problem.


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