Here's one of the countless reasons it really stinks to be poor and in need of healthcare services: medical schools today graduate massively disproportionate numbers of specialists (so disproportionate that only 30% of docs do primary care), but if you're uninsured and low-income, finding a specialist who will see you is a virtual 'Where's Waldo' hunt.
Mainstream news reports bemoan the glut of specialists and what it means for the cost of healthcare in the US, but if you're poor and uninsured these news stories are a sort of bizarre slap in the face. There is no glut of specialists in low-income communities; just the opposite.
Three cheers, then, for Operation Access - the program that in Contra Costa County and throughout the Bay Area connects the uninsured and indigent to outpatient surgical and specialty services provided pro bono by volunteer doctors, nurses, and hospital systems.
In 2009 alone, OA estimates that these volunteer medical professionals donated $1.8 million in charity care, representing a lifeline for community clinic patients and others who wouldn't otherwise have a place to turn for orthopedic care, hernia surgery, and other outpatient specialty surgeries.
On the 17th of this month, OA held its first GI diagnostic event - providing much-needed non-routine colonoscopies to 4 community clinic patients. For our part, the Clinic Consortium, under a Specialty Care Access grant from Kaiser, last year surveyed clinics throughout the county and found hurdles to diagnostic GI services a major problem for our patients. These are services that community clinics don't provide in-house, but that patients have tremendous difficulty finding on referral. This spring, we spent days behind the scenes coordinating the community clinic and OA systems in preparation for the GI event. By all accounts it was a rousing success, and hopefully the first of many!
Certainly there's no shortage of demand by low-income uninsured patients for specialty services. OA's pool of volunteers has shot up 317% since early 2009, but it's still nearly at capacity, bursting at the seams as community clinics and others refer patients in need.
The work goes on. In the mean time, if you see one of those news stories pondering the overabundance of specialists, consider taking a moment to drop a letter to the editor. Tell 'em what's really going on in our communities, and pass on OA's phone number.