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9 Things You Don't Know About Your Primary-Care Doctor

Many myths and misconceptions remain in regards to why your primary-care physician runs late, a topic that strikes a cord with all physicians, staff, and patients. Here are nine things you may not known about your primary-care physician or their office.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
September 28, 2017
Episode #213

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4.  They Have Extreme Overhead:  There’s immense overhead to keep a primary-care clinic running—plus the seriously poor reimbursement rates by insurance companies for the primary care physician’s time.  Mind you, the primary care doctor is often the most accessed physician by most patients, the physician you see the most recurrently and get to know in your lifetime.  Yet we are the least reimbursed by insurance companies for our time, lowest on the totem pole. Hence, the shorter time slots and greater frustrations experienced by both patients and physicians alike.

5.  There Are Issues with Access:  Of note, increasing patient time slots also causes diminished access. If your doctor's appointment slots all switch from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, then you may not be able to get in to see your doctor as quickly the next time around.  It could take up to months.

This leads me to the next point, because part of the reason for diminished access is …

6. There Is a Shortage of Primary-Care Doctors:  If you haven’t heard, there’s a huge primary care shortage in this country. U.S. residencies are having to fill numerous open spots with foreign medical school graduates.  Why would U.S. medical students choose this career in primary care when they can specialize, spend more time with each patient, and get higher reimbursement for that time as a result?

Mind you, specialists, such as psychiatry, have a higher reimbursement rate for their time.  So they may be able to spend 30 or 60 min with you. Specialists may even double, triple, or quadruple their salary with specialization.  Primary care is a different ball game. We only wish we could spend 60 or even 30 minutes with each patient.

7.  They're Being Double Booked:  Of note, the three clinical groups I have worked for mentioned above, none have routinely “double-booked.” This is a major patient misconception: not all clinics do this.  But, the ones that do have good reason to.  And it is not typically a pervasive or even daily occurrence, but one that may be necessary on occasion due to extenuating circumstance or urgency.  After all, we are dealing with human lives, our most prized possessions. So please keep in mind that this is very complex and requires more compassion, understanding, and flexibility. We are not running an airline.  It's human life we are dealing with here.

8. Their Schooling Takes 11+ Years:  After completing high school, physicians complete 4 years of college, then 4 years of medical school, and then a minimum of 3 years of residency in order to start finally earning a paycheck.  That’s 11 extra years of schooling minimum.  If you specialize, it’s another 1-5 years on top of that depending on the specialty.  We spend our entire youth in class, often giving up opportunities for travel, starting families, spending time with our loved ones, missing important life events, etc.  Not that we are complaining, because we actually do enjoy this process and chose it for good reason. But we don’t go through it for money either.

9. They Have Huge Debt, Which Can Take Decades to Pay OffMedical school tuition and fees average at about 40K a year, and this is not including cost of living expenses.  Not including the college tuition debt acquired from prior to medical school, most medical school grads leave with about 200 to 250K debt that takes decades to pay off.  By the time we pay this debt, it is likely double to triple in cost. Most of us repay this debt sometime between age 40 to 50, and for some of us, even later.

And there you have it, 9 misconceptions about your primary care physician, debunked.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

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