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Germain Ferranos 4, of Mendota is examined during a routine checkup by Vezzetti. Vezzetti works under the supervision of a physician and is trained to perform many of the routine, time-consuming tasks a physician can do, including writing prescriptions. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Amy Gentert of Oglesby speaks with Dr. Lucille Damasauskas at Illinois Valley Community Hospital’s CareToday Clinic at Illinois Valley YMCA, Peru. New clinics, such as CareToday, allow people to seek care quickly without having to make an appointment with their physician or go to an emergency room. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Patients expecting help sooner than doctors can see them is a problem local hospitals have been responding to through specialty clinics and the addition of mid-level medical professionals. Sarah, a woman from the Ottawa area who asked that her last name not be used, said she’s currently in the middle of a three-month wait for a doctor’s appointment. The process can be frustrating, she said, noting that her problems are compounded because she relies on Medicaid for healthcare coverage. “When people are on the medical card, doctors tend to blow them off,” she said. Additionally, her children’s pediatrician recently left the area so she’s hoping she can find a new doctor before any ailments befall her children. “You can only see so many patients in a day,” Denise Billhorn, nurse coordinator at physician services of Mendota Community Hospital, said of doctors. But nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who can provide many of the same services as medical doctors,including writing prescriptions, are able to take some of the patient load of family physicians’ backs. Tracy Ganz, physician services manager at MCH, said for a normal health visit it can take a few weeks to a month to get into a doctor’s office at MCH, but getting into a mid-level’s office can be even sooner. Kari Billhorn, lead receptionist at physician services of MCH, said only a few people seeking appointments are determined to see a doctor rather than a mid-level medical professional. “A lot more of the elderly patients are taking a little longer to get used to what a mid-level can do,” said Angela Vezzetti, a physician assistant at MCH. Illinois Valley Community Hospital has been actively promoting its FastCare and CareToday clinics as ways for people to quickly receive care for acute ailments without incurring the costs associated with an emergency room visit or waiting to get into their doctors’ offices. Amy Gentert of Oglesby has almost become a regular at the CareToday clinic at the Illinois Valley Y, where she has sought “convenient” treatment for herself and her twin children. “Dr. D. is the one who’s almost always here every week,” Gentert said, referring to Dr. Lucille Damasauskas. “She knows my family. She’s almost our secondary family physician.” Damasauskas said many of the patients she sees in the clinic are children who experience sore throats or fevers, but aren’t able to quickly get into their family physicians’ offices. “Most people go, ‘Oh, I’m glad you’re here,’” she said.
Are there enough doctors? Statistically, there are enough doctors in IVCH’s coverage area to meet the needs of residents, but future capabilities remain a question, particularly as the hospital prepares for potential changes in demand with the further implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said Bobby Smith, vice president for physician services and quality at IVCH. “There will be a lot of people who will be able to be eligible for accessing medical care that do not do so today,” he said. The problem is perhaps worse nationwide. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports, “With a growing, aging population, the demand for physicians will intensify over the coming years. According to AAMC estimates, the United States faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020 — a number that will grow to more than 130,000 by 2025. “We’re very fortunate in the Illinois Valley to be a place that physicians want to continue to practice,” Bobby Smith, vice president of physician services and quality, said. MCH is able to meet local demand. “We can accommodate everyone in here,” Ganz said. With a combination of family physicians and “mid-levels,” such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, physician services of MCH is able to offer get patients in quickly, often on the same day they call for an appointment. MCH also has adjusted their medical office hours to meet the demands of patients. “A lot of people these days have to work and we have to accommodate the working family, as well,” Ganz said. Sarah, who is planning to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner, said she is comfortable with receiving treatment from mid-levels as long as it results in getting the medical care her family needs. “My son is supposed to see a psychiatrist for his ADHD and it’s easier to get in with the psychiatrist nurse practitioner and she’s wonderful,” Sarah said. Smith said the Hygienic Institute Community Health Center in La Salle is another good option for people seeking low-cost care, particularly those without insurance. At IVCH, staffers are attempting to develop a system that will allow all the medical group’s doctors’ offices to interact better so that one office with a full schedule can direct patients to another office with openings. IVCH also has developed an online physician directory and a smart phone app that allows people to find physician contact information. “Those are great tools for people that are new to the community,” Smith said. To talk about the article, call (815) 220-6934 or email@example.com.
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