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Nationwide doctor shortage

If you need to see a doctor, take a seat. It could be a while. On average, it takes 29 days for a new patient to see a family medicine physician, compared with 19 and a half days in 2014.

Part of the problem is a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States compared to other developed nations. Patients are feeling the crunch, both in terms of the wait time to see a doctor, the wait time in the waiting room, and then sometimes feeling like the doctor is distracted and overworked in the office.

To help fill the bench, many practices are now taking a team approach to healthcare. Healthcare professionals say the end result is greater access to care. Primary care doctors are swamped -- especially during a busy flu season -- but if a patient is willing to see a physician assistant (PA) or a nurse practitioner (NP) healthcare professionals say it's possible they can get the same day. Even though they don’t have as much training, Consumer Reports says in many cases it’s fine to see an NP or PA for routine matters. However, there are circumstances when you might want to ask to see a physician for complex problems where you’re not seeing a resolution, where treatment isn’t working, where the diagnosis is very different or mysterious.

On the whole, the team-based approach is growing. More than 60% of physicians now work alongside advanced practice providers.

If you are considering a practice that uses an array of healthcare providers, make sure you check with your insurance company that all of the professionals in that practice are in- network and their services are all covered.

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