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Wait times for primary care physicians are expected to get longer, but technology may help

A young father worrying about his son suffering from a viral fever in their home.
rbkomar / via Getty Images
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Young father worried about his son with a viral fever in their home.

There is an expected shortage of up to 55,200 primary care physicians to meet demand by 2033, according to a projection from 2018 by the American Association of Medical Colleges. But more patients said they’re already frustrated by the shortage.

“It was months out before I could get an appointment,” said Amy Lundberg, who had been looking for an annual physical appointment and works at a school in Bolton. “Then they called, and they're like, ‘Oh, we can't see you, because you haven't been here in over three years.’ So now I need to find a new doctor.”

Lundberg said it took six months to get an appointment with a new primary care physician, who then referred her to an OB-GYN. The specialist diagnosed her with endometriosis, which had by then advanced to stage 4.

“And now I can't have kids,” she said. “If I'd gone sooner, I may not have been, you know, where I'm at now.”

Patients like Lundberg are caught in economic crosswinds. More primary care physicians are retiring — burnout is a factor and demand outpaces supplywith fewer medical students interested in primary care, in part because reimbursements are typically higher in specialty medicine.

Primary care physicians discussed with Connecticut Public how the "fee-for-service" model is keeping doctors away from the field, who prefer what’s called a "value-based" model.

But these are long-term problems requiring long-term solutions.

Tech firms are working on immediate solutions to ease the crisis by getting patients seen sooner by their doctor.

Hari Prasad, co-founder and CEO of Yosi Health, cited a McKinsey study that claimed 20% of physician appointments are wasted because of last-minute cancellations and no shows.

“If the [predictive technology] solution can identify ahead of time that there's about to be a cancellation, physicians can open up their schedule to other patients that are in line to get care,” Prasad said.

The most recent data from Merritt Hawkins showed that the average wait time for a physician appointment in 2022 is 26 days, up from 20.9 days in 2004.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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