This week marks the one-year anniversary of my five-week stay in the hospital. I am pleased to say we are blessed to have a wonderful medical community. Now I share some recent personal experiences that may seem to contradict that and then explain them.

I was experiencing some severe pain and called for an appointment. They gave me a date 10 days removed. The reservationist was compassionate, but could do no better than saying, “I regret your suffering.”

I had serious tests made and did not hear from the doctor for three weeks even though I called his office asking for the results.

I sat in a doctor’s office waiting to see him for four hours after the appointed time before seeing him.

I needed a heart valve replacement, but had to wait three months for it. All the time, my stamina was waning and my condition worsening. There was a government regulation requiring a certain standard and I failed to meet it by point one. The doctors would have been charged criminally if they had not waited.

Now an explanation. As I told the doctor I saw four hours late, “That is OK, all you were trying to do was to help people.” He was not derelict or just didn’t want to see me, he was overloaded. The challenge is the ratio of doctors to potential patients. There is no way they can meet the demand.

Couple the demand with government regulations and the issue is compounded. Computer record-keeping greatly reduces the number of patients they can see. Record-keeping is a good thing, but it has a downside. One doctor said to me, “I went into medicine because I wanted to help people, but the government has made a scribe of me.”

We are blessed in that we have an excellent safety net, an emergency room. I have been there too often recently and received excellent life-saving care. On one visit, my wife called my attention to a rare phenomenon. There was a lady in the ER hall playing the harp amid medical personnel and people on stretchers whizzing by. I thought, “Are they trying to tell me something?” — a harp!

Under construction at Kennestone is a large, first-class emergency building. Plans are underway to care for the sure-to-come need for it because making timely appointments with doctors will become increasingly difficult.

The complexity is not only difficult on the public, it is on the doctors also.

The nation’s population is growing and aging, and as we continue to address population health goals like reducing obesity and tobacco use, more Americans will live longer. These factors and others mean we will need more doctors. However, studies show there will be a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the greatest shortfall, on a percentage basis, will be in the demand for surgeons — especially those who treat diseases more common to older people, such as cancer.

With increased regularity, doctors are retiring early or cutting back to fewer days per week in the office. As the population grows, the demands on medical personnel increase and their numbers decrease.

The future doesn’t look promising. In the meantime, be patient with your doctors. All of this is a challenge for them as well as the general public.

I thank the Lord for the medical community He used to extend my life.

The Rev. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.


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