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New Patients Face Long Waits for Primary Care in Worcester

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

 

Two to six weeks. That's how long new patients can expect to wait for a routine physical appointment with a primary care provider in Worcester, if they can schedule an appointment at all.

A Waiting List for the Waiting Room

Primary Physician Partners, a four-doctor private practice located downtown in the Worcester Medical Center, is no longer accepting new patients.

Webster Square Medical Center, with one M.D., an Adult Nurse Practitioner and an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, is also not accepting new patients. The practice had been referring prospective patients to another private practice, but that doctor is no longer accepting new patients either.

Only one of the three doctors at the primary care practice Chadwick Medical Associates, P.C. is currently accepting new patients.

The UMass Memorial Medical Group is made up of nearly 1,000 physicians across three campuses and over 20 communities around Worcester, but even with such vast resources, patients still should not expect to just drop in for a visit with their doctor.

Robert Joly, Manager of Physician Referral Services at UMass Memorial, said that right now, new patients can expect to wait two to six weeks for a routine physical appointment with a primary care physician.

The exact length of time depends on a number of variables, Joly said, including the patient's medical insurance provider and the medical reason for the visit.

For those more urgent medical cases, patients can often see a doctor within seven days or fewer.

However, just scheduling the initial appointment is not enough to guarantee a prompt visit with the doctor.

"If their initial appointment is six weeks out and something happens, there will still be a wait," Joly said.

Once patients see a doctor for their initial appointment, Joly said, it becomes much easier to schedule subsequent visits, and the wait time shrinks from two to six weeks down to less than one week.

Redefining Primary Care

Dr. Sam Fager, a healthcare consultant with 35 years industry experience, said the wait to see a primary care physician is unlikely to get shorter anytime soon.

"We know that more patients are coming into the system," he said. "Nobody knows how everybody is going to be taken care of."

Dr. Fager sees a variety of new care options, such as "concierge medicine" where patients pay a set fee to be under the care of a physician, replacing the traditional family doctor as the healthcare industry continues to evolve.

He noted that a number of drug stores and pharmacies currently employ nurse practitioners who dispense flu shots and provide minor medical care. Minute clinics and nurse practitioner-staffed emergency centers are also viable alternatives to the doctor's office or emergency room.

For those patients who still want a primary care physician, Dr. Fager recommended scheduling an initial appointment while you're healthy and establishing a relationship with your doctor so you can receive better care when you really need it.

 

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