Perils of weekend sickness

When Americans look for a desirable place to live, access to good health care ranks at or near the top of their priority list. Betsy and I in 1977 chose Chapel Hill mainly for its strong educational environment, access to the arts, and yes, good medical care. All of those have grown and prospered in these 42 years we have lived here

Employment in health care is big in Chapel Hill, second only to education. In 2017, more than 4,600 people were so employed here. And we keep them busy. Primary care physicians each saw about 1,400 patients that year. Demand definitely exceeds supply. If you doubt this, sit with me in a medical waiting room for a while, a long while, any weekday. Bring a book.

Providers are responding to demand as best they can. Just three miles from our front door, the University of North Carolina’s medical campus hums with activity, its several major hospitals specializing in just about any disease one can name. Ten miles away in Durham lies Duke University’s similarly active medical center. In between and around the geographic edges sprout more satellite medical facilities than you can name, staffed by professionals from Duke and UNC. One is just up the street from me, less than a mile away. Walking distance.

We have eagerly taken advantage in the convenient availability of such excellent medical care through the years, particularly as we grow older.

Except on weekends. That’s a different story. Doctors, nurses, health care employees at all levels are people, too, and they love their weekends. Who wouldn’t? Like the rest of us, they want to take a break, certainly deserved, to spend time with their loved ones. We patients support this as we should.

So from Friday afternoon to Monday morning we don’t get sick, right? But of course, our bodies operate on a 24/7 basis, and we do get sick, invariably, it seems, on weekends. When that happens, what are our options? We can send a message to our regular providers on our “My Chart” portals and wait for a Monday response. We can take our troubles to the main hospital’s emergency room, we can present ourselves at an urgent care place whose staff knows nothing about us or our medical history and is limited in what they can do for us.

The mystery if that we haven’t yet figured out a workable solution for this. Not really.

It’s time we do.

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