Our View: Path to better health ranking won't be easy

April 06, 2011

There are things about medical care in the Imperial Valley that are shocking. And contrary to
what we believe are the uninformed opinions, it’s not the quality of that care, but the quantity of those providing it.

A study released last week ranking Imperial County’s overall health put us low in the state, something many of us already know. We’re low on the list for all the reasons we know as well,
poverty and socioeconomic issues, education, diet, diabetes, obesity. The list goes on and on.

One of the largest determiners, however, is our lack of access to primary care doctors. There is only one primary care physician for every 2,400 people in Imperial County. It’s a shocking number when you think about the fact that San Diego County, our nearest neighbor, has one primary care doc for every 838 people.

Again, it’s not the quality, which is what you’ll hear local residents say over and over and over again. It’s the number. Such a disparity shows itself in time spent actually talking with a
physician in his or her office. It shows itself in the time spent in a waiting room. We think it even shows itself in the doctors who come for short periods and leave to other areas, where
they will see more private insurance patients.


Recruiting doctors to the Valley must be a thankless task, because efforts we see at the local hospitals and with the local medical society don’t seem to be bearing the fruit all parties had hoped.

But efforts remain and local medical officials continue to try and hold out hope because they have to. To see the ratio of doctors to patients significantly increase would be horrible.

Matters are made worse by money and cuts to Medi-Cal on the state level. Two-thirds of all Imperial County residents are on Medi-Cal, and what doctors and hospitals get paid to provide
that care is dwindling.

Have you noticed that most specialists in the Valley no longer take Medi-Cal? Instead, many locals are referred to San Diego for orthopedic surgeons and others.

It’s a sad comment on the medical system all around, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of local patients for all the wrong reasons.

While that’s a different issue, we do believe things will get better once more primary care physicians choose to practice here. Unfortunately, it’s been a trend for years now that American
medical students emerge from internships and residencies and go straight in specialization, rather than general care.

There, too, we will need to see a reliance on foreign-educated doctors.

All of these factors can be mighty confusing, but in the end, the solution is more, more, more. How we get there is not quite known.

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