I've been meaning to schedule a physical for a couple of weeks, but failing to get around to it. Yesterday, I finally made the call. Since I just turned 40, I think I ought to get a real physical exam, not just a quick once-over while the doctor refills the prescriptions that I need to live.
They told me that I'd have to wait until August, because my doctor only does one physical per day. When I was unhappy, they invited me to change doctors. I've been seeing this guy for 10 years; I don't want to change doctors. But I do want a doctor that thinks my physical is important, so he'll actually be thorough and make sure that if anything is wrong he finds it.
This doctor is a cancer specialist, but he was taking new general patients when I joined the health plan 10 years ago, and as far as I recall hardly anyone else was, even at the biggest hospital in almost 100 miles. It really seems to me that if a doctor is going to let someone choose him as a primary care physician, he has a responsibility to really be available for that person as a primary care physician, and being a primary care physician for a healthy person mostly means doing physical exams. It further seems to me that once he's had a patient for 10 years, he shouldn't treat seeing that patient as a sideline to his real practice with cancer patients. And finally, if he really is too busy with cancer patients, he (or his staff that work for him) should at least be able to provide some better support than "if you don't like waiting more than two months, you can pick a new doctor".
After getting some sympathetic noises but no real help from the nurse, I went ahead and scheduled the appointment, at which time she told me there had been a cancellation; would I like to have my exam on June 29? If they'd offered me that in the first place, I wouldn't have gotten all upset and gone through all of this. But maybe I wanted to know that I should be looking for a new doctor. I will be paying attention to what he actually does for me when he sees me, and if he confirms rather than easing my fears that my care is not very important to him, I'll have to start the process of trying to find another doctor.
I want to believe that the problem is not that my doctor is a jerk (he certainly doesn't seem like one; that's why I've been seeing him for 10 years), but that the system is squeezing him by making him deal with more patients than he can handle. The fact that I'm getting jerked around by the best health plan in town, at the biggest and best equipped (not necessarily best run) hospital within 100 miles, certainly doesn't bode well for people with no or second-rate health coverage.