Survey: Access To Primary Care Lagging In Mass.

Copyright: (c) 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Source: Associated Press
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BOSTON — More than half of all primary care physicians in Massachusetts are no longer accepting new patients, and the average waiting time to see specialists is lengthening, according to a new survey on patient health care access.

The report to be released on Monday by the Massachusetts Medical Society has serious implications for health care costs in the state, the doctors group said, because patients unable to see a primary care physician are likely to seek more expensive emergency room treatment.

“Massachusetts has made great strides in securing insurance coverage for its citizens,” said the MMA’s president, Dr. Alice Coombs , referring to the state’s landmark 2006 universal health insurance law.

“But insurance coverage doesn’t equal access to care,” she said.

The telephone survey of 838 doctors conducted in February and March found that 51 percent of internists are not accepting new patients, up from 49 percent the previous year. Fifty-three percent of family physicians, the other major group of primary care doctors, were also not taking new patients.

Even for patients fortunate enough to have a primary care doctor, waits for appointments continued to be lengthy. The average wait for an appointment with an internist was 48 days, which was five days shorter than last year, but the average wait for family medicine was 36 days, a week longer than in the 2010 survey.

Patients were also waiting longer to see specialists. The average wait for gastroenterologists, obstetricians/gynecologists, orthopedic surgeons and cardiologists were all higher than a year ago, the report said.

An ongoing shortage of new primary care physicians entering the system was cited as the principal reason for why so many existing ones had simply stopped accepting new patients.

“There’s only so many patients you can see in a day,” said Dr. Lynda Young , a Worcester doctor and president-elect of the MMA.

Medical students are eschewing the grueling hours and lower pay that primary care often entails in favor of specialties that offered a more consistent work schedule and quicker path to repay medical school debt, experts say.