ONLY ON KOLD: Waiting for doctors - Tucson News Now

ONLY ON KOLD: Waiting for doctors

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Amy Beyer got a rude awakening when she tried set up her routine annual appointment with her primary care doctor in Tucson.

"I called and the wait was quite significant," she said.

The office told her the wait "was probably six to eight weeks. I guess it's kind of just having to deal with what it is these days."

These days many of us deal with similar situations. There's a doctor shortage in Arizona.

Tucson News Now called the two largest medical centers in our area, the University of Arizona and Tucson Medical Center, to see how quickly new patients could get appointments. We called 10 different specialties at each medical center. At UAMC, in most cases you could get an appointment in a week or two. For a primary care doctor, you'd have to wait a month. For a dermatologist, two and a half months. At TMC, most departments had waits of a week or two if you were willing to go to any doctor's office. But certain doctors had waits of 3 months, and some didn't accept new patients.

Kim Ford works for St. Luke's Health Initiative in Phoenix, and says our state's behind the curve compared to the rest of the country. They researched where Arizona stacks up when it comes to our number of doctors. She says "when we look at the number of healthcare workers per one hundred thousand compared to the rest of the country, we don't have what even approaches the national average for primary care." Here's where Arizona's ranked: 33rd out of the 50 states in doctors for our population, and 41st when it comes to primary care doctors.

And the problems are on path to get worse. Here's why: tens, maybe hundreds of thousands un-insured Arizonans will get access to health care in the next few years thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Plus, our state's population continues to grow, and we're getting older. It's not just patients who are getting older. Dr. Thomas Rothe says "a lot of guys are in my age group. who could conceivably in the next five years say, I've done my time." Dr. Rothe is the president of the Arizona Medical Association, and has practiced in the state for decades.

He says doctors knew about the doctor shortage years ago, and tried to warn about the problem. "I think the problem has been expressed. Here are what the issues are. How we are going to deal with it? No one seems to me at least to say, 'Here's the fix to that.'" Rothe says if nothing's done to fix the problem, eventually people who've never had trouble getting into see doctors might feel the pinch. Rothe says "the worst case scenario is there's going to be a lot longer waits to see physicians...It's never a crisis until it's a crisis that happens to you."

Amy Beyer's worried about that crisis. "It's a little bit scary. I'd like to know that I can get in to see somebody.

For the record, here's a statement from UAMC about the wait times for appointments: "We strive to offer same-day appointments for primary care, and appointments to specialists within 7-10 days.  However, based on the specialty, this can be much longer, especially if pre-approvals or pre-testing needs to occur. Not having enough specialists to meet the demand in a timely manner can also be a barrier.  We are working to improve our access to care for all appointments."

TMC followed up with the following response: "The physician shortage, especially in primary care, is something that hospitals across the country know is a looming issue.  We have a program here for our docs who are preparing to do their residency at TMC called the Clinical Learning Lab.  It gives them hands-on experience in a lab setting that's as close to the real thing as they can get."

 

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