If you are considering retiring to Delaware or have recently done so, you are likely well aware of the difficulty in finding your new primary care physician in the area. While asking for referrals from friends and neighbors adds a good deal of trust, they are not always the best source for your personal circumstances.
Adding to the difficulty is your particular financial considerations, such as your medical insurance acceptance, Medicare and other supplemental policies. The answer to seeking care can be complicated.
Here are some insights to help you navigate.
A drive through the area reveals an astounding amount of new construction for healthcare facilities. So it seems ironic that wait time for a new patient visit to a primary care provider can be months. In fact, a recent to call to the Beebe Healthcare system’s scheduling department revealed that in general, primary care doctors are scheduled out about six months or more in advance, and certain specialty consults may take double or triple that amount of time.
Why the delay? In general, despite all of the new buildings, there is a primary care provider shortage. Several of those new buildings we all see budding like mushrooms are dedicated to outpatient and diagnostic services along with specialized care.
Reasons for the shortage are varied. First, traditional family and internal medicine physicians themselves are retiring like the rest of us, and not just here in Delaware.
The statistical evidence as monitored by medical watch groups and even the NIH reveals no surprises due to the “boom” of baby boomers who received medical degrees in the 70s and 80s are indeed retiring themselves.
Add the double whammy of COVID burnout and you’ll see the rapid decline of physicians deciding to continue their internal or family medicine practices.
Anecdotally, this writer can attest to this trend. My own doctor recently traded a thriving private practice with a new local corporate model because his eyes are on a more seamless path to retirement.
Many healthcare providers are also exiting traditional medicine simply because they can no longer afford exorbitant overhead in the midst of dwindling fee reimbursement.
Another transparent reason is the population surge in the area, meaning there are fewer providers able to handle the volume of increasing patient bases in a timely manner.
So, where do you start when you are new to southern Delaware and find yourself trying to establish that essential relationship?
First, there are resources on the internet that can suggest options, and it’s definitely a priority to reach out to your insurance carrier for guidance on getting set up with a primary care physician within their network. For online searches, one highly rated option is healthgrades.com if you would like to learn more about a physician’s education and training.
In southern Delaware, there are two major local health systems: Beebe and Bayhealth, both which have grown exponentially in size and have a healthy competition going on. But to find your primary care doc through either system is not easy, since they are also experiencing a shortage of doctors and other providers.
Of course, you can always search for and find medical care in the area not associated with either Beebe or Bayhealth. Many individuals actually prefer to do so because of the fact that their care is independent and may provide more choices when specialty care is necessary.
There are “doc in a box” facilities that can address emergency or basic care, as an option, and they do alleviate many situations that need immediate attention, but not emergency care – a much more expensive alternative.
The purpose of these urgent care facilities is to treat patients immediately, but in general they do not provide general, ongoing care such as annual exams and routine lab work. Facilities such as Atracare in Lewes have a kind of hybrid approach of immediate care, but also provides immunizations, athletic clearances for students and pediatric care.
Beebe and Bayhealth have alleviated their emergency room overflows by also offering several walk-in clinics throughout the area. In western Sussex County, Tidal Health’s system also operates similar clinics.
A trending concept everywhere is “concierge” healthcare, in which patients typically pay a set fee annually, giving patients the ability to be seen whenever they are in need. The benefits of boutique-style access to your doctor certainly is appealing. But the price tag can be exorbitant for the majority of people, and this model has its drawbacks, especially for people on fixed incomes. Concierge care can cost upwards of five figures – per year per person.
Increasingly, primary care providers – as well as patients – are realizing the benefits of seeing the true heroes in this current physician shortage. Physician Assistants (PA) and Certified Nurse Practitioners (CNP) are coming to the rescue, and they are highly reputable.
Not only do the highly educated and trained PAs and CNPs work in close tandem with and under the supervision of medical doctors, but they are often patients’ go-to for medical advice that may make some people uncomfortable discussing with their doctor. They can diagnose and prescribe if necessary. And if you are new to Delaware, your chances of establishing primary care soon are higher if you schedule an appointment with either a PA or CNP.
Stay healthy and do your research! ‘The greatest wealth is health.’ – Virgil
–By Bridget Fitzpatrick, Resident Journalist