Children experience big waits when accessing care

A whopping 90 percent of hospitals end up delaying appointments, losing patients or refering them elsewhere due to physician subspecialty shortages -- particularly in pediatrics, according to new survey data from the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI).

Pediatric patients and families are reeling from this lack of access to care; 17 states lack at least one physician in one of 13 pediatric subspecialties, including developmental-behavioral, infectious disease, cardiology and neonatal-perinatal, according to the December survey, which NACHRI recently presented to a congressional caucus on children's health.  

Kenneth Jones and his mother Lauren understand the plight all too well. The Alaskan-born 3-year-old has a rare gastrointestinal disorder that prevents him for absorbing protein. "There are so few pediatric GIs out there and so many children that need to be seen that you just have to wait in line," said Lauren Jones, who was forced to travel for three hours to visit the lone pediatric GI specialist in Alaska, and after moving to Oregon, needed to travel to Ohio after a seven-month wait to see the closest similar specialist, the Wall Street Journal reported. "That's the hardest thing to endure for a parent with a sick child who needs help right away."

NACHRI's members often work with low-income families covered by Medicaid, which reimburses about 30 percent below what Medicare reimburses adult specialists. The group's survey included 44 hospitals employing 3,000 sub-specialists. The hospitals reported that jobs for the top specialties are going unfilled for a year or longer, with nearly half reporting vacancies in pediatric-rehabilitation medicine, hematology and oncology and cardiology.

To learn more:
- read the full Wall Street Journal article