Doctor's appointments: law against long waiting times

Doctor's appointments: law against long waiting times

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Politicians want to shorten waiting times for a specialist appointment

Appointments with a specialist are often difficult to obtain for those with statutory health insurance and involve months of waiting. In the worst case, the long waiting period can have serious health consequences for those affected, as the example of a patient from Günther Jauch's program shows on Sunday evening. Under the heading “By the way, the next please! The long wait for the doctor's appointment ”, Jauch spoke to a person affected, various experts and the Federal Minister of Health about the waiting times for doctors, their causes, the consequences and possible solutions.

"While in rural areas patients not only have to wait a long time, but often also have to drive far, the problem in cities is increasingly shifting to the clinics," reports the "ARD". There, patients would pour into the emergency rooms and push them to the limit of their resilience. When asked about an appointment with a heart specialist, ophthalmologist or dermatologist, the answer was often that the next free appointment is only in four months, says Jauch. In the worst case, this can be fatal for those affected. In the show, for example, Stefanie H. reports of her complaints, which should be examined by a neurologist. Despite intensive efforts, she was not given a timely appointment and would have had to put up with waiting times of up to eight months. In the end, the patient was able to get an appointment with an exaggerated description of her symptoms, in which a brain tumor was diagnosed, which had to be operated on immediately. According to the doctors, the woman would not have survived until the originally mentioned dates.

Extremely long waiting times for a specialist appointment undisputed The program also reported on other patients who died of complications from their heart problems while waiting for an appointment with the cardiologist. However, the discussion among the panel guests went without the direct involvement of affected patients. Experts such as Stefan Etgeton, health researcher from the Bertelsmann Foundation, Federal Health Minister Hermann Gröhe (CDU), the chairman of the board of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) Andreas Gassen, Susanne Mauersberg from the Federal Association of Consumer Centers and Consumer Associations - Consumer Association Federal Association eV (vzbv) and the emergency doctor were invited Paul Brandenburg. Although the experts differed widely in many details, nobody ultimately denied the sometimes extremely long waiting times for a specialist appointment. How to deal with this remains controversial.

Timely medical appointments in rural areas are a major problem The health researcher Stefan Etgeton from the Bertelsmann Foundation reports on the results of his investigations, which show that doctors in Germany are generally very unevenly distributed. While there is an agglomeration of medical practices in large cities, the supply in the bacon belts around the metropolises is already significantly worse. According to the expert, the thinly populated, rural regions - especially in eastern Germany - have the greatest weaknesses here. While an average of 28 percent of Germans wait longer than four weeks for a specialist appointment, this applies to 39 percent in the sparsely populated east. The unequal distribution of doctors leads to an exacerbation of the problem. In addition, many doctors are currently around the age of 60 and are therefore expected to take over the practice soon. The living and working conditions as a country doctor are rather unattractive for many potential successors, which should result in a further decimation of rural doctor's offices in the future.

Supply Strengthening Act to reduce waiting times The Federal Government wants to put an end to the long waiting times for a specialist appointment with the Supply Strengthening Act, said Federal Health Minister Hermann Gröhe at Günther Jauch. In the future, no patient should have to wait longer than four weeks for an appointment. Corresponding service points, which must be set up by the statutory health insurance associations, should help arrange appointments. If the telephone service center is unable to make an appointment within a week, the patients will be referred to the hospital and the association of statutory health insurance physicians will have to pay the costs. The basic idea is that medical specialists report free times to the service centers, and the latter then make appropriate appointments with needy patients, says Gröhe. Andreas Gassen does not see the Federal Government's proposal as a solution to the fundamental problems. First, there is no urgency classification of cases. In addition, many patients would prefer their "dream doctor", but the appointment would be arranged with any specialist within a reasonable range.

Is patient performance a problem? And the basic problem remains the undiminished high access to all medical specialties, the Chairman of the KBV continues. The patients are also partially victims of the free movement of the system. An unrestricted service promise will be made to them, which should offer the opportunity to see a (specialist) doctor at any time at will. In the medium term, however, the doctors would no longer be able to do this. Theoretically, a promise of performance should be limited. This is a requirement that is unlikely to be understood by most of the legally insured patients. Because in the discussion it was not mentioned that the long waiting times pose a problem especially for those insured by law, while private patients usually wait much shorter for a specialist appointment. Obviously, there seems to be room here for shorter-term appointments by the doctors. If part of the available capacity is now reported to the service centers to enable timely appointment assignment, the Supply Strengthening Act could actually make a significant contribution to reducing waiting times for a specialist appointment. (fp)

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