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Boston Patient Struggling to Access Timely Medical Care

Sarah Day, 47, who was diagnosed with liposarcoma and is looking for help from Boston hospitals, complained the long wait time for medical appointments put her health in danger.


Day's disease has her suffering from a rare nerve disorder called neuromyotonia, which causes constant muscle activity that cannot be controlled, even during sleep. "I contacted a clinic and gave them all the information that they need," said Day. "I have told them I'm now overdue for a scan but have heard nothing."


Since Day moved to Boston this January, she's started seeing help for IVIG, a treatment for neuromyotonia. "They [the clinic] were supposed to call back, and I'm still waiting," she complained. "My body hurts, and I'm having trouble because I am overdue for IVIG."


Such pain doesn't solely torture Day. American Family Care released a study that found Boston has the longest average wait time for the next open appointment. "The average wait time for an appointment in Boston was 45 days," the study noted. "The number was much higher when you broke it down into specialties such as Family Physicians, 66 days, Ob/Gyn, 46 days and Dermatology, 72 days."


According to OrthoBethesda, delayed treatment can worsen patients' medical conditions and increase their emotional distress. For instance, a postponed treatment for obstructed gallbladder can cause "greater pain and lower quality of life."


"I feel like I'm getting nowhere. I don't even know when the appointments will be when they actually call me back," said Day. She endured the twitches, muscle spasms, muscle cramps and constant movement in the body. 


"It's a rare progressive disease, and me waiting for so long is not good. My neurologist in Europe said it would get worse if I didn't get the treatments, and she was right. It has gotten worse, but nobody is helping me," Day added.


Mit Pombe, Bostonian, 42, has to go to the emergency due to difficult access to usual health care. "It happens multiple times, especially in Covid," said Pombe. "Like if I call now, they will provide an appointment after a month."


But an emergency is still not an ideal solution. HospitalStats releases the average emergency wait times of eight Boston hospitals, from fastest, under two hours, to slowest, more than four and half hours. A survey published by JAMA Network Open revealed that patients left waiting before seeing doctors had doubled from 1.1% (0.5%-2.5%) to 2.1% (0.6%-4.6%) between 2017 and 2021.


The long wait situation might even deteriorate. According to data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2021, there could be an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034 in the U.S.


"The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to health care services and exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system," said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD. "The pandemic also has underscored the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation's health care infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America's needs."


Murshid Buwembo, the staff at Boston Center for Independent Living, also complained a lack of assistance during appointment-making confused patients and could lead to a mismatch between doctors and patients. "Maybe I have a problem with my heart. And then they told me to schedule an appointment, but the problem may be some feeling somewhere near the heart or anything," Buwembo added. "As a patient, I'm not professional."


Sandy Eaton, 78, a retired nurse, who is also active with Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, stressed the numbers of nurses and other caregivers hired in health facilities are not adequate "as they can't afford, they deliberately reduce, or they don't seek to hire enough personnel to actually care for people."


"After the pandemic, a lot of nurses don't work. More and more doctors are leaving because of the horrors of going through the three years of the pandemic," Eaton added.


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