John Pollastrinis job these days is all about fixing what the economic recession has broken.
AAFP member survey reveals patient volume drops
Patients come in, and they are anxious and depressed. I can vividly remember one patient who was basically totally stressed outnot sleeping, not eating wellbecause his company was going bankrupt, says Pollastrini, an M.D. who is one of three family-practice physicians at a Provena Medical Group office in New Lenox, Ill. The group is part of Provena Health in Mokena, Ill.
Some patients dont come in at all. Pollastrini says he sees an average of two new patients a dayabout half of what he expected last year when he joined the practice in an up-and-coming suburban area.
The story is the same in Seattle. People want to get more out of a visit. They wait until they have a couple of problems to come in, says Cassandra Giedt, M.D., a physician with Swedish Physicians, a primary-care group owned by Swedish Medical Center, Seattle. We are getting more requests from patients who say, Lets wait on that.
The patients in New Lenox and Seattle are typical, according to a survey of American Academy of Family Physicians members that was released in May. More than half of survey respondents, 54%, said patient volume is down in the last year or so. In addition, 28% said patient volume hasnt changed, 13% said patient volume increased and 5% said they didnt know.
The AAFP sent the survey via e-mail to 10,000 randomly selected members (8,297 e-mails were successful); 505 members responded for a response rate of 5%.
Nearly all of the physicians in the survey said the recession is taking a toll on patients pocketbooks and health. For example:
- 89% said more of their patients worry about their ability to pay for services.
- 87% reported an increase in patients with stress symptoms.
- 73% said they have patients who cut prescription dosages.
- 35% responded that they have pediatric patients who missed regular checkups.
- 60% reported more health problems in patients who put off preventive care.
Americans also are less likely to have private insurance. Of those who returned the AAFP survey:
- 38% reported an increase in Medicaid patients.
- 64% reported a decline in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage.
- 73% reported an increase in uninsured patients.
To respond to patients needs, the Family Medicine Residency now offers a sliding-fee scale and free screenings. It also increased the percentage of same-day appointments from 10% to at least 40%. The new policy caters to patients who dont come in until an acute problem crops up.
Family Medicine Residency isnt alone. Two-thirds, or 66%, of survey respondents say they offer discounted fees, free screenings and other programs to help patients.
Not all providers can afford those options; 44% of physicians in the survey says theyre thinking about cutting services or staff. We are seeing this across the nation, says Epperly of the survey results.
Linda Wilson is a freelance writer for Modern Physician based in McHenry, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected].Submit a letter to the Modern Physician Reader Blog. Please include your name, title, company and hometown. Modern Physician reserves the right to edit all submissions.
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