Need to see a doctor? Take a seat. It could be a while: 29 days on average for a new patient to see a family-medicine physician compared with 19 and a half days in 2014.
Part of the problem is a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States compared to other developed nations.
Patients are feeling the crunch "both in terms of the wait time to see a doctor, the wait time in the waiting room and then sometimes feeling like the doctor is distracted and over worked in the office,” said Lauren Friedman, Consumer Reports Health Editor.
To help fill the bench, many practices are now taking a team approach to health care.
“We have MDs, DOs, osteopathic doctors, RNs, Nurse Practitioners, PAs and we all work together as teams,” said Dr. Steven Meixler.
Health care professionals say the end result is greater access to care. Primary care doctors are swamped, especially during a busy flu season, but if a patient is willing to see a PA (that’s a physician assistant) or an NP (nurse practitioner), Dr. Meixler said they can often see that person within hours and get the care that they need.
Even though they don’t have as much training, Consumer Reports says in many cases it’s fine to see an NP or PA for routine matters. However there are circumstances when you might want to ask to see a physician.
"Those would be complex problems where you’re not seeing a resolution, where treatment isn’t working, where the diagnosis is very different or mysterious,” said Friedman.
On the whole, the team-based approach is growing. More than 60 percent of physicians now work alongside advanced practice providers and Dr. Meixler fully expects the trend to continue.
“I think it’s good. And I think it’s healthy. And I think it’s going to help patients overall,” Dr. Meixler said.
If you are considering a practice that uses an array of health care providers, make sure you check with your insurance company that all of the professionals in that practice are in-network and their services are all covered.