The number of diabetics in the Las Vegas community is on the rise, but the number of endocrinologists is shrinking. Patients have to wait for appointments and the doctors are overworked.
Endocrinologists treat diabetes and other hormone-related disorders including pituitary disease, thyroid disease, and osteoporosis.
The number of these specialists in Southern Nevada has been reduced dramatically in the last few months because three doctors have retired, and a couple of others are too ill to work fulltime.
Henderson endocrinologist Reid Litchfield is working overtime to compensate. "There's more and more patients to see and only so many hours in a day or a week to see those patients. So it forces us to try and screen patients that are calling in for assistance and patients may have to wait a little longer to be seen," he said.
Dr. Litchfield also says recruiting can be difficult because of Nevada's high malpractice rates and shrinking insurance reimbursement.
It wasn't always this way. Just five years ago, Maureen Hart's late father, a diabetic, never had a problem getting into see an endocrinologist. But her daughter now finds it difficult just to get an appointment.
Maureen Hart said, "So we're really in a Catch 22. We're going to have an increase in physical needs in our population and a decrease in the ability to treat that population. We're kind of on a powder keg waiting for something to happen."
The shortage of endocrinologists means an expanding role for surrogate caregivers.
Dr. Litchfield continued, "And I think we're seeing more and more mid-level providers such as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants helping the endocrinologists that are here."
Dr Litchfield worries that our local shortage will become widespread because he says medical school students are choosing more lucrative specialties, like cardiology. He says the shortage is being felt even more by those in need of a pediatric endocrinologist.
Meanwhile, primary care physicians are helping to pick up the slack in care, after diabetic patients have been trained to measure their glucose levels and administer insulin.
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