Call it medical matchmaking. Put on by Hallmark Health at Orleans Restaurant in Somerville last week, the playfully titled “Match.doc’’ — inspired by the online dating service match.com — sought to spark chemistry between prospective patients and local doctors through short, informal, speed-dating-like sessions.
“It’s a nice way to meet doctors when they’re not in their white [lab] coats,’’ said Maggie Taverna, 23, of Somerville, a librarian at Arlington Catholic High School who described herself as “newly acquainted’’ with a full-time job with benefits. “You can meet someone you can rely on, someone you can get to know and trust.’’
Which, many note, will get all the more difficult, due to an ever-increasing shortage of primary care doctors, the large number of retiring physicians, and ballooning patient loads expected as baby boomers age and President Obama’s health care bill takes effect.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the country will have a shortage of 90,000 doctors in 10 years.
And that, in turn, could exacerbate issues with the already underserved population of younger patients, some say. Inspired by similar events at medical centers across the country, Match.doc was particularly geared toward those in their 20s and 30s — or an age set that is historically unattached to primary care physicians.
At Hallmark Health’s clinic on Main Street in Medford, for instance, only about 30 percent of patients are age 35 and under; roughly 20 percent are in their 20s, according to manager Shirley Kennedy.
Often those age groups emerge from college, start careers and families, and “just lose track,’’ she said.
Still, conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure don’t discriminate by age, said Dr. Pius Ogagan, one of six potential “matches’’ at the event.
Also, symptoms of other diseases could go unnoticed or unchecked, he added.
“The consequences could be devastating,’’ he said.
Musselman agreed that many in his age bracket don’t have a firm connection to health care.
Oftentimes, he considers it “just something that comes out of my paycheck,’’ he said, or is there for an emergency.
At the same time, though, he believes younger patients are not marketed to as heavily as older groups. “Health care doesn’t necessarily reach out to my population,’’ he said.
Added to all this, as with any relationship, it simply takes time to find a connection that clicks.
“I think it is hard to find someone you can open up to and feel comfortable with,’’ said Meredith Enright, a nurse practitioner who offered up her services at Match.doc.
Indeed, many doctor-shoppers at the event had been jilted, or turned off, by detached, impersonal visits with physicians who knew nothing about them beyond the details on their medical chart.
“My last doctor visit was in and out,’’ recalled graduate student Alex Hidalgo, 25, of Cambridge, noting that she and the physician just “didn’t connect.’’
Colleen Harris, meanwhile, recalled having a doctor she was “very uncomfortable’’ with — so the 24-year-old South Boston resident would frequently cancel appointments and then avoid repeated calls by the office to reschedule.
But she described an instant synch with the doctor she ultimately settled on. “I was like, ‘OK, this is perfect,’ ’’ she said.
Musselman said he has not been to a doctor for years, but he’s had a recent shift in thinking.
“I want to make sure I’m doing the right things now,’’ he said, and also “get good recommendations and guidance to lead a healthy life and do the things I want to do.’’
Before Match.doc, he hadn’t been looking; he didn’t really know where to start, he acknowledged, and dreaded the thought of sifting through online databases with faceless lists of names and bios.
But when he walked into Orleans last week, there were five male and female doctors and a nurse practitioner waiting expectantly; they sat lined up at tables at the back of the restaurant, while stations nearby offered financial counseling and appointment scheduling.
Keeping with the speed-dating theme, patients-to-be were handed sheets with each doctor’s picture, credentials, and special medical interests, as well as lines to take notes, and suggested conversation starters including, “how do you communicate with your patients?’’ and “how long is the usual office visit?’’
Many potential patients came with their own questions as well.
Spending several minutes with each medical professional of their choosing, they asked about hours, services, referrals, insurance coverage, available parking — and also delved into conversations about family life and personal interests.
Musselman wanted to make sure the two doctors he met with were experienced with men his age.
“I want to know they’re familiar with me, and not just 50-year-old men or adolescents,’’ he said. He also asked what’s appropriate and recommended in terms of sports activities and social drinking.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, Ogagan stressed the need for regular checkups, and tried to keep things casual by asking personal questions dealing with family and work.
“You try to bring them close to you first,’’ he said.
Enright talked about her focus on the “whole person,’’ as well as the yoga classes she leads regularly. “It’s just letting people know what kind of people we are,’’ she said.
And in some cases, the chemistry was immediate.
Musselman was on a first-name basis with his MD choice in just minutes, and said that he felt he was “really trying to understand me.’’
The two also shared an interest in a holistic approach to healing, as well as an integration of technology into their respective fields.
“I did have a type of doctor I was looking for, and I found him,’’ Musselman said. “It really felt like, ‘This is someone I can talk to.’ ’’