In 2019 we discussed the basics of why patients wait a long time to hear back, get through on the phone lines, or be seen with a primary care doctor. Unfortunately, this problem seems to have worsened acutely with the COVID epidemic. As an update to that blog, we want to begin by highlighting again that according to Merritt Hawkins, the average wait time for a new patient appointment with a primary care doctor is 29 days, up 50% from 2014. In Rhode Island, the wait continues to be much longer. We’ve heard of patients quoted a six to twelve month wait period before they can see a doctor as a new patient!
To add to this concerning timeline, it can take 2-3 weeks to be seen for an acute issue at a practice you have already been established as a patient. Because the panel of patients at a typical PCP’s office is over 2000, and because doctors are still expected to see 20-30 patients a day, the wait times have only worsened since 2019.
As more and more primary care physicians become “burned out” with the day to day grind of a typical primary care practice. Many docs are moving out of medicine and fewer medical students and residents want to pursue primary care. This has led to a “shortage” of primary care doctors, both in Rhode Island and nationally.
With the COVID pandemic, the issues above are now being compounded by staff shortages. Medical offices are really struggling to fill their existing medical assistant, nurse and secretarial roles because of changes in the workforce and vaccine mandates. What does this mean for primary care (and specialist offices for that matter)? It means when you call to schedule a visit, you may not even be able to get through to talk to someone. It means when you reach a person, your wait time may be longer than ever for a visit to be scheduled. Hospitals are reporting decreases in ability to keep floors and beds open and procedures on schedule with a lower level of available supportive staff.
At our Direct Primary Care office, we are lucky to have no reliance on staff. Our micropractice style DPC puts the patient directly in touch with the doctor. So when we told you two years ago you could text or email us directly - we meant that. No one is serving as middle man and our ability to give you the care you deserve in a quick, thorough, and direct manner has remained unchanged.
So, if you know someone who’s had a hard time finding a new PCP, tell them they can check out how we practice primary care differently at www.directdoctors.org and schedule their own appointment right there on the website - no hold times, no waiting and no middle men.
Lauren Hedde, DO; James Hedde, DO and Mark Turshen, MD are Family Physicians and Co- Founders of Direct Doctors, Inc. a Direct Primary Care Practice.