Fresh Living

Most of us grew up thinking of the family doctor as a person you can count on to know you (and your body), be available to you, and to help you navigate the health care system. But in a world where only 2 percent of medical school graduates choose to go into internal medicine, the “primary” in “primary care physician” can feel almost laughable.

Here in Massachusetts, a big part of the problem is that primary care doctors are in too-high demand. Since the state passed a law in 2006 mandating health insurance for everyone, doctors’ patient lists are over-full.  A person in this state waits an average of 36 days to get an appointment with his or her primary care doctor. This leaves many wondering, what good is it to be assured of getting insurance if you’re still waiting around for a month to see your doctor?

I only see my primary care doctor, who I like a lot, once a year at my physical–which I book a solid 3 months in advance.

In the 2 years I’ve been part of her practice, I have yet to see her one single time I’m visiting for a more acute reason. Almost every time I go in with a specific issue, I end up seeing another doctor in the practice. Luckily, this is a compassionate, knowledgeable woman who is a good listener and, since I’ve seen her repeatedly, knows my name and doesn’t treat me like a stranger every time I come in.

But I suspect that the reason I consistently see her is that she’s the lowest doc on the totem pole (she’s only a couple of years out of medical school). So what will happen when she starts filling up her own patient roster? What if the next newbie is a poor empathizer, or a fast-talker? Or, heaven forbid, a man?

I wonder what your experiences are with your primary care doctors, if the Massachusetts story is the rule or the exception. Are you lucky enough to have a trusted, accessible family doctor? Is your primary care doc merely a referral resource for specialists? Do you skip annual physicals because you can’t get appointments?

I suspect this is something we’re all in together….

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