One Fewer Pediatrician

May 27, 2010 in Health Care "Reform", Health Policy by RangelMD

If the goal of the current health care system is to drive away every primary care physician then it has been and still is doing a bang up job. Dr. Li writes about why she left.

Pediatricians’ pay took a tumble. Hospital nurses questioned why we took on so much responsibility and worked such long hours for paychecks significantly smaller than theirs. Insurance companies kept ratcheting back both on our reimbursements and on the level of patient care until there was little left.Patients naturally became disgruntled. They got angry about the insurance denials and took out their frustration on our office staff. We needed to see more patients to make ends meet, so the waiting room became more crowded and waiting times increased. I had nightmares about running hours behind, patients yelling at us to “hurry up!” There were days when we would skip basic necessities like eating lunch or going to the bathroom; we didn’t want patients to wait. Days “off” were often spent seeing patients, catching up on paperwork, and calling back families who had questions too lengthy for regular office hours. Lunch was typically spent tackling the accumulated stacks of charts and callbacks to patients from the morning, in addition to holding office staff meetings or attending meetings at the hospital. A typical call night would entail the beeper going off every five to 10 minutes throughout dinner, and my often spending a good part of the night at the hospital. In the morning we’d arrive at the office and try to smile through another full day of patients.

Sounds like a dream job. Yep, and a great investment: spending 7 years of medical training to make less than what an RN makes with 2 years of training (kudos to the happy RNs who figured this out before it was too late).

Dr. Li encountered the paradox of traditional high volume primary care. Insurance reimbursement rates fall so the provider sees more patients but higher volume means higher overhead costs and more non-reimbursable obligations (phone calls, medication refills, paperwork) and therefore less take home pay. Too bad Dr. Li didn’t consider changing to a concierge medical practice model.

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