When we were young, the family doctor got most of the questions and gave most of the answers. As we have grown, both literally and figuratively, medicine in the primary care setting has evolved as the gatekeeper to the ever expanding specialization of medical services.
While physicians across the country still want to deliver the best care possible, the specialization of medicine has created ever lengthening lines of patients waiting for specialty services. Let's face it, none of us like to wait in line. We wait at the grocery store, the commute to work, heck even the bathroom line can be daunting. It is not unusual to see appointment times exceed three to four months for non emergency specialty services. The net effect is often the decrease in the delivery of effective, efficient health care services. Increasing the services provided by the front line primary care doctor can help with the wait.
Primary care physicians are adding new services for patients at a rapid clip. Options for physicians and patients include lab tests, mobile mammography services, ultrasound, allergy testing, imaging, weight loss management and chronic care among others. Most of these services can be utilized safely, cost effectively and as importantly, timely for patients. From a poll of primary care physicians, approximately 1 out 2 patients referred to a specialist never follow up with the specialist appointment. Often citing the length of time before the appointment as one of the main factors contributing to the lack of patient follow through. If patients have access to these services on demand at the primary care physician's office, it can be as simple as spending an additional ten or fifteen minutes of time during your current office visit to access additional healthcare options.
As our population grows and lack of access increases because of wait times for specialty services, we will need primary care physicians to fill the gap for the less complex cases that can be handled or at least evaluated without the wait. It is interesting how we may be coming full cycle back to the time when our family doctor gets most of the questions and has the resources to give many of the answers.