Regarding “Doctor shortage needs prescription” (News, June 24): While some states are educating more physicians and some are increasing the responsibility of non-physician medical staff, the solution is to ensure that everyone works at the top of his or her ability by increasing support staff. During medical school, I saw physicians spend hours following up missing lab results, requesting medical records, working on plans for discharge, and on and on. These things could be done by a nurse practitioner, a dietitian, a social worker, and often, a secretary.
This past year as I interviewed at residency programs throughout the country, I was struck by the variation in support staff. To illustrate, at one hospital when a woman was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, she got a one-time dietitian visit. At another, the high glucose result automatically referred the patient to a dietitian who enrolled the patient in classes, saw her at prenatal visits and provided phone follow-ups. Patient care improved and less physician time was used.
This country's financial position requires that we stop squandering physician time on tasks better done by other medical professionals. Training physicians and paying their salaries is expensive; we should use our investment to the fullest extent by hiring sufficient, excellent support staff. This would attract more medical students to primary care, increase the number of patients existing physicians can see, and improve patient care, which is always the goal.
Kate C. Arnold, M.D., Oklahoma City
Arnold is an intern in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.