As Middle Tennessee's population grows, demand for doctors incre - WSMV News 4

As Middle Tennessee's population grows, demand for doctors increases

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(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)

Nashville is growing by the hundreds each weeks, which means more people are in need of doctors.

Some patients tell News 4 they've had to wait for months before they can be seen a new physician in Nashville. Others who live in outlying counties say they often have to drive to Nashville for care because there is limited access to doctors where they live.

Mike Frankich has been in and out of the hospital for several years. He has to come to Nashville from Wilson County for doctors’ visits. He says the drive is taking a toll on him.

"It's getting very hard for me to keep going into Vanderbilt," Frankich said. "It's a 22-mile trip. I have to go in every six weeks to get INR [testing] to get blood thinners.”

Tuesday, Frankich was thrilled to come to the opening of the new St. Thomas Medical Partners doctor's office in Mt. Juliet. The office is less than a mile from his home.

"I could walk if I were in better health," he said. "Doctors being out here is great because we've been looking for them.”

At least one patient told News 4 that many primary care doctors at Vanderbilt were booked through the end of the year. St. Thomas and TriStar Centennial are accepting new patients, but the demand is still high. A spokesperson with St. Thomas said they receive more than 810 calls a month from patients trying to see a doctor.

"With the influx of community members that are entering Nashville, and the suburbs around Nashville, what we look at is what is the total need for new primary care doctors for expanded access," said Fahad Tahir, CEO of St. Thomas Medical Partners.

Tahir said St. Thomas is expanding to get more doctors closer to where people live. He spoke to dozens of patients at the Mt. Juliet opening who were relieved to have a doctor’s office nearby.

"This past week we saw 150 patients of which almost 15 percent were new patients who never had access to a primary care physician and needed access, and they established themselves with one of these new doctors," Tahir said.

The clinic has seven physicians as well as advanced practitioners specializing in primary care, neurology, gastrointestinal medicine, pulmonary medicine, and sleep medicine. It also has a sleep diagnostic center.

Patients without insurance can receive discounted care and charity assistance if they qualify. Last year, Tahir said St. Thomas paid $92 million charity healthcare costs for patients.

"One of the things I'm really interested in is expanding walk-in access so patients don't have to worry about calling and they can just come right in," he said.

Middle Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College entered a partnership this summer to fight the doctor shortage in under-served communities by having graduates become doctors in Middle Tennessee.

"It is imperative to increase the number of primary care physicians in the state and to incentivize them to practice in under-served area of Tennessee" said Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College president, in a June press conference.

A St. Thomas community needs assessment showed a demand for doctors in Brentwood, Murfreesboro, Mt. Juliet, Antioch, Franklin, Hendersonville, and Gallatin. They'll be expanding in those areas over the next year. A new facility will open in Lenox Village in the next couple weeks.

"We saw a real demand for bringing access to the community or otherwise, people were going downtown or other locations or just had longer wait times," Tahir said. "What we wanted to do was contribute to a solution and our contribution to the solution was the expansion of these care centers.”

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