Caregivers have their work cut out for them. You think it’s tough now, wait until 2025 when there will be an estimated shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians, according a recent study cited in MedCityNews and written up in the Annals of Family Medicine. This number, alarming as it is, is actually worse when you compound in the additional 32 million additional people who will have access to medical care by 2014 when the Affordable Care Act provisions start to kick in.
Caregivers, who typically are the ones who get the first call from their loved one regarding a symptom — life threatening and otherwise — also typically do the first stage of diagnosis — assess the degree of severity of the symptom and what it may impact. They try to keep in mind what they know from past experiences with the loved one and, more importantly, what they don’t know, in an effort to not overstep their role and make a wrong assessment. If it’s a symptom and circumstance they deem out of their comfort zone of knowledge and ability to manage, it’s time to call a doctor.
What if there is no doctor available for weeks? What the study did not review was the number of available non-doctors that might be in supply in 2025. We all know the wonderful service provided by nurse practitioners. In fact, many of us prefer the bedside manner and care by a nurse practitioner than the doctor. I haven’t yet found a study showing the growth in numbers of nurse practitioners, but nursing organizations are acknolwedging that nurse practitioner may indeed help fill the widening doctor gap.
Caregivers may want to consider developing a “rolodex” of nurse practitioners along side the list of doctors who they consider partners in the care of their loved one. Perhaps you already do this. While waiting for medical attention, caregivers will inevitably feel compelled to do more research into the symptoms, make more inquiring calls for doctors and nurse practitioners who may be available, and do what they can to comfort their loved one. At this point, you are really serving as a Quality of Life Advocate.