Despite the poor ratings they give for urgent care facilities, more Americans visit them for treatment even if they have a primary care physician. The reason: doctors, or the lack thereof.
Urgent care centers are not physician clinics. Although they do not treat life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks, they manage conditions that require immediate attention such as an infection.
However, based on the poll by NPR with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, patients go there even if their issues are neither an emergency nor urgent. They find these facilities more convenient, as they are in many locations and they receive rapid treatment.
They did not have to deal with doctors who are out of office or find the best time for an appointment.
Why Can’t Doctors See Their Patients?
The problem of “missing doctors,” however, is not as simple as them taking their holidays. For one, the United States has a shortage of physicians, especially in the rural areas, and it will continue to get worse.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts the country will lack over 100,000 doctors by 2030.
Doctors are also burned-out professionals. The average panel is only 2,300 patients, but most physicians report 2,500. To care for all of them, they would need at least 21 hours a day of work.
With so many patients to see in the clinic, hospital, and other facilities including nursing homes, usually, patient-doctor interaction lasts for 15 minutes or less. That may not be enough time for those with serious conditions or patients that require more extensive monitoring.
The Value of Technology
Fortunately, innovation has found its way into healthcare, helping physicians manage their time more efficiently. Telehealth software or application systems now provide a digital platform for patients and doctors to communicate virtually anytime, anywhere.
They also help reduce overhead and minimize waiting times, which is a win-win for both parties. Electronic health records (EHRs), on the other hand, prevent redundancies in diagnoses and medical exams.
Doctors can go through the documents before seeing the patient, so the interaction is limited to what is only essential.
Technology cannot completely bridge the gap between hard-to-find doctors and patients who need them immediately, but it can speed up the process.