New Mexico has low number of doctors, nurses and specialists

Statistics indicate New Mexico has fewer health care providers than the national average, suggesting patients wait longer to see physicians and have less access than residents of other states.

“For what people are paying, they expect a little better on the service side,” Daniel Derksen, a family practice physician at the University of New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal in a copyright story published Sunday.

“It’s very hard even for our own employees to get in to see a primary care physician here. With certain specialties, good luck.”

According to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, New Mexico:

_Ranks 42nd among the 50 states in the number of health care workers per capita and 48th in the number of hospital beds per 100,000 people.

_Has 96 primary care physicians per 100,000 population, compared with a national average of 99.

_Has 211 physicians of all types per 100,000, compared with 246 nationally.

_Has one registered nurse for every 129 people, compared with one nurse for every 101 people nationwide.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Dorf, an Albuquerque lung disease specialist, said patients who want to see him must wait six to eight weeks unless they are an emergency case because there aren’t enough pulmonary specialists.

“I don’t think any patient should wait that long. I can’t work any harder,” Dorf said.

The Greater Albuquerque Medical Association listed 16 pulmonary physicians in 2003 and 11 in 2006. Dorf has been trying to recruit a physician into his one-man practice for two years with what he called “miserable luck.”

“I’m exhausted,” he said. “It’s almost three years without a vacation.”

Rural areas of New Mexico have it especially rough. Providers tend to congregate in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, earning New Mexico’s other 30 counties the federal government’s “health professions shortage area” designation.

State licensing data show 54 percent of New Mexico’s actively practicing physicians work in Bernalillo County.

Sparsely populated areas are difficult to serve. Patient loads aren’t big enough to support many specialists, and providers are usually reluctant to work in rural areas.

Only Bernalillo County is classified as an urban area. Census data show 15 people live in the average square mile of New Mexico, compared with 80 nationally and 810 per square mile in Massachusetts.

Fourteen New Mexico counties have six or fewer people per square mile.

Little statistical information is available to quantify problems like wait times and delays, but Presbyterian Healthcare Services _ the state’s largest system _ provides data based on its patients’ experiences.

Presbyterian tracks the difficulty patients have in seeing a member of its own 300-provider medical group by documenting the “third next available appointment” _ the wait time a patient should expect if he or she is scheduled for a slot in the doctor’s calendar that is the third longest wait.

For February 2007, the third next available appointment for a primary care physician was 7.5 days out. For a specialist it was 21.2 days.

“The specialist measure is pretty wide-ranging,” Presbyterian spokesman Todd Sandman said. “Within that, you would see some specialists with wide access and some you couldn’t see for months.”

Emergency room wait times are horrible, but surprisingly not much worse than nationally.

A national patient satisfaction survey conducted in 2006 by Press Ganey Associates found the average emergency room length of stay _ wait time plus treatment time _ was 222 minutes, almost four hours. The New Mexico average was 223.5 minutes.
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