Finding a Doctor in Bakersfield: Three Questions to Ask First
It can be a challenge for a family to find a doctor in Bakersfield who is accepting new patients. Many of the doctor’s offices and medical practices in Bakersfield are not accepting new patients because of the changes in health insurance, increased need, and MediCare regulations. Most physicians are working harder than ever just to provide services to the patients that they already have.
There are limits to the number of patients that a doctor can effectively care for. The average family practice physician in the United States carries 2,300 patients, while many studies suggest that a family care doctor, also called a “primary care physician,” can only effectively manage about 1,800 patients. As the number of patients goes up, the time spent with patients each visit, and the quality of care goes down. And as our population ages, there are more and more adults in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s who require more frequent office visits, and longer appointments from their doctors.
So as offices fill up around Bakersfield and the rest of Kern County, what can you do if you are now looking for a doctor to become your family’s “primary care” physician? And what criteria will you use to choose a doctor for your family?
If you choose a PPO insurance plan, your insurance company will make the decision for you – you will be given a short list of covered provides to choose from, or your will be assigned a doctor. That’s an easy process, but limiting.
Outside of that process, you will want to know about availability of the doctor. This is called “patient access to care,” and the more patients the doctor or office already carries, the harder it will be to see that doctor “today or tomorrow,” when you need to see a doctor. The “average wait time” for a physician appointment varies across the country. The “average wait time” to see a family physician across the country is 19.5 days. In Boston, the average wait time to see a family physician is 66 days – the longest in the country. Los Angeles had an “average wait time” of 14 days, and Dallas has the shortest average wait time to see a family physician of any major city at only 5 days.
About 8% of family care doctors in the United States have a “membership” practice, or concierge model. These doctors charge a monthly fee to “members” and in return they drastically lower their fees, or simply don’t charge for office visits at all. In this “membership” model of physician care the average doctor carries between 300-600 patients which greatly enhances “access” to your personal physician. About 50% of appointments can be scheduled on the same day, and most everyone can be seen within 24 hours of calling for an appointment.
The average appointments are longer in the “membership” model as well. The average face to face time with a family care doctor in the United States is 6-8 minutes. At a “membership” medical office providing “direct pay” or “concierge” medical services, the average appointment time ranges from 30 to 60 minutes. This gives the doctor lots of time to ask the obvious questions, plus time to ask less obvious questions – which improves patient care significantly.
Here, then, are three kinds of questions that we recommend that you ask before selecting a physician to become your family’s doctor:
1. How many people do you have as your patients? Or how many patients per doctor does your office average? It’s the same question either way. You want to know, “How busy is your practice, and how much time will you have for me when I need you?”
2. What kind of access would I have to the doctor? What is the “average wait time” from calling for an appointment, to actually being seen by the doctor? How many people who call for an appointment are seen that same day, or within 24 hours?
3. What is the average cost for an office visit? What are the costs for common lab tests? While we would like our health insurance to cover these costs, the reality is that most of our health insurance policies have deductible amounts of a few thousand dollars that we will have to pay out of pocket anyway – perhaps using a health savings account.
There are some doctors in Bakersfield who only average between 300 – 600 patients, who have an “average wait time” of 24 hours or less, and whose average face to face time with their patients exceeds 30 minutes. These doctors do not charge for office visits, or for the most common lab tests – these are included in the low monthly “membership” fee (much like being a member at a health club).