Natchitoches is just one town in America having difficulty with health care. The local doctors are solidly booked with patients with long waiting periods for care. The worst part, however, is the fact that new patients have difficulty finding a family doctor. That’s because there aren’t enough doctors for the population.
This is a common problem. Ana Pere, a physician whose offices are near the downtown area in Natchitoches, Louisiana isn’t taking any more patients. Already it isn’t easy to get an appointment time with the doctor, and wait time in her office can be more than an hour. She is a popular doctor, which likely accounts for much of this; but Natchitoches is a retirement destination. That means there are people moving to town, and an increasing new patient list for one of the few doctors in general medicine in Natchitoches.
In Hawaii by 2005 many doctors were reporting they couldn’t see new patients, especially if they were in routine medicine. Dr. Carl Hallenborg, a doctor of internal medicine and pulmonary specialist, said that he was beginning to stop seeing new patients four years ago. It’s likely the problem of finding a general practice physician or internist continues to be difficult, as reported by Diane Lessner, a long-term resident who moved to California, and returns as a frequent visitor
Lines are especially long in emergency rooms at the hospitals on weekends, but also on weekdays in Natchitoches. Stop in for an emergency visit and the wait will be sometimes several hours. The same is true at the Outreach Medical Center that handles the patients with limited funds. Part of this is said to be due to the many poor people who can’t afford insurance. Some may result from doctor shortage, if the evidence from local doctors is any indication.
There are numerous articles on how to reduce wait times, and those can be helpful. But in the case of areas where there good doctors aren’t taking more patients and wait times are maximum now, there has to be a solution beyond the patient’s preparation of making lists of medications and making early appointments.
Should there be free education for those going into medicine who have gone past the basics in college? That’s one solution that European countries have sought. Subsidizing education or providing some level of support and encouragement is one area that has been discussed, but what are the alternatives beyond that? Other options include the following:
1. Forgivable loans to allow students to have an incentive to enter general practice and be able to get through medical school.
2 Mentoring programs where doctors serve to mentor students in the public school system who are interested in medicine as a career.
3. Bring in doctors from other states and campaign for doctors to move to needed areas, with a network of places in crisis.
4. Increase the role of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants in patient care.
Will Obama’s medical program address the doctor shortage as well as access? Patients are losing patience and hope for a change, according to those waiting in the local doctor’s office in Natchitoches, Louisiana.