TUBA CITY, Ariz. - With nearly half of the nation's physicians at or near retirement age, rural hospitals, especially those serving Native American communities like Tuba City Regional HealthCare Corporation (TCRHCC), face a challenging doctor shortage every day.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the lack of doctors is expected to get worse in coming years.
At Tuba City Regional, the doctor shortage has hit the Department of Internal Medicine and Family Medicine especially hard because patients from communities across the Western Navajo agency and outside the primary service area of the hospital come to Tuba city because of doctor shortages at neighboring healthcare facilities.
"This is a significant problem for us," said Dr. Kathryn Magee, outpatient medical director at TCRHCC. "The competition to recruit primary care doctors nationally is becoming fierce."
Dr. Bernice Ly, chief on the internal medicine department, said in addition to the doctor shortage, there has also been an increase in patients seeking care over the last decade.
"TCRHCC is working feverishly to find quality medical providers," Ly said.
During 2013-2014, Tuba city Regional will lose about 10 primary care doctors, said Dr. John Wright, deputy chief of staff and chief of the anesthesiology department.
Over the last six months, the hospital has begun adjusting staffing and recruitment in response to the national shortage of doctors and increased patients from the federal Affordable Care Act. Also hospital officials are working to address the increased need by hiring physician assistants and family nurse practitioners to help see patients.
Because of the shortage of doctors, hospital staff strongly encourages its patients to keep their appointments, if at all possible. Because appointments at the hospital are limited, if someone misses an appointment, it can take two to three months before a patient may again be able to see a primary care doctor.
"TCRHCC outpatient department tracks the rate of patients who did not keep their appointments, or the "no-show" rate, which is at 29 percent, "said Wendy Luce, outpatient nursing director. "If our patient misses their appointment, it disrupts schedules and causes other patients to miss an opportunity to be seen in our outpatient clinics."
Tuba City Regional administrators also encourage patients to call ahead if they are unable to keep an appointment and to call and cancel their appointment as soon as possible if they are unable to keep it. This allows another patient to take that appointment.
"The important message we want to tell our patients is to show up for your appointment. If you can't make your appointment, please call us three days ahead of time so that we can schedule other patients that need an appointment," Magee said. "At the end of the day, our goal is to provide a quality and accessible health care system, and to take care of our patients."