To survive, health care system needs more providers

Could someone please call 911? Our health care system is in dire need of medical assistance.

Have you tried making an appointment with a primary care doctor recently? Good luck to you. Most primary care physicians are not accepting new patients. If you are one of the fortunate existing patients, then you will most likely experience lengthy wait times for an appointment.

The majority of Americans do not realize that there is a critical shortage of primary health care physicians. It is estimated that by the year 2015, there will be a shortage of 63,000 primary care physicians, and this shortage will continue to increase to 130,000 by 2025. Further compounding the situation is an aging baby boomer population of 78 million who began turning 65 in 2011 and many are expected to have chronic medical conditions.

Many residents do not choose primary care for their area of practice. Instead they are drawn to areas, such as cardiology and dermatology, that yield higher salaries and fewer clinical hours. There is also a very large number of practicing primary care physicians nearing retirement age.

As we near the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, this situation will only worsen. Our health care system will have an influx of tens of millions of Americans with newly acquired access to health care. Many of these new patients will present high degrees of unmanaged illnesses. Who will care for them? Our current number of practitioners will not have the ability to treat these patients effectively or efficiently.

Gone are the days of the office visit that actually addresses all your medical needs. Primary care physicians are overworked and burdened with far too much bureaucratic paperwork and far too many patients to see.

A possible remedy would be to educate and employ more nurse practitioners and physician assistants to ease the burden and provide necessary medical care. These practitioners focus on chronic disease management, health promotion and preventative care. We are simply out of time to remedy the physician shortage.

A more cost-effective approach would be to educate and employ more mid-level providers who can diagnose illness, prescribe needed medications and practice preventative medicine for millions of underserved Americans. It is not rocket science to diagnose a simple sinus or urinary tract infection. This does not need to be done by a physician.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are highly trained and quite capable of diagnosing many ailments. Much of their practice is focused on education and teaching patients ways to promote health or manage their disease. This focus reduces frequent trips to the emergency room and hospitalizations which cost Medicare, Medicaid and other programs billions of dollars per year. Many trips to the emergency room can be easily avoided with an office visit and treatment at home.

According to Angela Golden, president of the Academy of Nurse Practitioners: “As the United States implements historic changes to our health care system and as the shortage of physicians continues to grow, nurse practitioners must be full participants in the initiatives emerging from all corners of our industry in order to best protest and preserve the health of our population.”

The health care industry and consumers must change their mindset in regard to the delivery of health care. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are not given the credit that they deserve in much of the physician community. It appears as if their turf needs protection.

However, there are those physicians who welcome mid-level providers with open arms as they see the reality of our health care crisis. They are to be commended.

The goal of providing safe, effective and efficient care should be held by all in the medical field. We all want favorable outcomes for our patients. We must have an open mind in regard to our delivery and acceptance of health care services if we are to treat the massive numbers requiring care.

With the addition of more mid-level providers, we could actually treat those who need us most: the underserved, the elderly and those in rural areas. In my many years of practice as a registered nurse, I can honestly say that I have not had a concern of this proportion. Something needs to give, or those we serve will no longer be patients, they will be victims of the health care shortage. — Carla Christenson, Elk River