News 4 Investigates: Daily Briefing

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News 4 Investigates: Doctor Shortage

by rkinsaul

KMOV.com

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 9:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 3:06 PM

If you've ever moved or had to change doctors and found it hard to find a doctor who was taking new patients, then you've come face to face with a doctor shortage. Fewer medical school students are choosing a career as a primary care physician, so there are fewer of them. And we're in the middle of a trend that's not expected to get better.

The primary reason fewer doctors are choosing a career as a family doctor, is that the pay is so much less than being a specialist. A family doc's average annual salary is $162,000 and a cardiologist is $336,000. The reason why you might feel rushed at the doctor's office is that primary care physician are reimbursed at lower rates, so often will try to cram a lot of patients into their day to keep up with their costs. It tends to make for long exhausting days for primary care physicians also. Money isn't everything but it's a big consideration after all those years of school and if your school loans are around the average of $160,000, so more are choosing to be a specialist. Also, the traditional family doctor is no longer held in the same high regard. And med school graduates prefer to go into areas of medicine where they have more control over their hours and lifestyle. More women are becoming doctors and female physicians often put a higher priority on spending time with their families. And after having children, many choose to go part-time.

The consequences of a primary care physician shortage goes beyond long waits to get in. In rural and urban areas where there are shortages, people tend to go to the doctor less often. When they go, they're usually sicker and it costs more to get them well. When people don't have a family doctor they'll choose more expensive care, like an emergency room or going straight to a specialist. After a co-pay or meeting a deductible, do you think the insurance company is going to eat the rest of the cost? No, it'll be passed along to you and me, causing the cost for healthcare to go up. As baby boomers age and start going to the doctor more often, the shortage is only going to be felt more. No one's ever going to feel sorry for a general practitioner because of their income, but if primary care physicians just got a raise, you wonder if it couldn't make the situation better for all of us.

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