The vast majority of people truly want a doctor they respect and actually like. This may come as a shock to many of my jaded colleagues who routinely face the ire of people stuck in waiting room purgatory, ignored or disbelieved by doctors, and treated as objects instead of people. They think that people are angry because they don't like doctors. They view the people on their schedule as, at best, the hungry masses they must placate and, at worst, as their adversaries they must conquer. Then they wonder why their patients are so unhappy?
The past three years has taught me otherwise. People want to like their doctors. We just haven't given them any reason to do so.
Rather than dwelling on the malfunction of the system, however, I want to turn my eyes toward what most people don't see: what real patient-centered care could and should be. It's not that I am suddenly wiser than my colleagues in the sick-care system. Despite 18 years in practice, I was not able to see what true patient-centered care looked like until I left the system.
Fortunately for this my patient, I was not only able to reunite him with the joys of sitting, but I was able, with a little research, to find him his proctological savior at a low cost. Unfortunately, most patients don't have docs who are economically incentivized to save them money, and most people don't realize all of the games played by pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to routinely perform wallet biopsies, nor do they know how to find the cheapest prices for their medications.
I don't know what can be done about this kind of thing aside from increasing awareness. I'm not real confident in any government solution. People just need to be smarter shoppers when it comes to their care. It's just a shame that people who are dealing with health problems (even if it is just trouble sitting) have to outsmart the gaming done by those supposedly trying to help them.
I could say the cliche' things about it seeming like yesterday, yet like it has been forever since I worked anywhere else. I guess I just did…so there’s that. But more to the point is the reality that I actually survived. Many expressed confidence in me when I started doing this, while many others expressed supreme skepticism over whether or not this type of practice could actually work. To both of those groups of people I say: keep waiting to make your final judgment. The practice, while profitable and now growing steadily, is still not near to the point I need it to be. It’s heading in that direction, but there are no guarantees; I still could mess this thing up.
People are quick to accept non-answers from specialists, to be misconstrued by ER doctors, and to spend a week in the hospital without knowing what is going on. Other doctors are far too willing to accept fragmented care, not knowing the context of the current hospitalization or outpatient consultation.
Since my model of practice (a monthly fee without copay or other profitable procedures/products) benefits most from people paying for my service without heavy use of those services, this seemed to be prudent. It seems that I was right about this, when comparing experiences with my colleague. People are much less likely to pay $50 per month (or more) unless they have significant need, so a higher price essentially selects for more complex and/or demanding patients.
This is why I can reasonably handle 640 patients today with only two nurses (one of whom is away on vacation). Yes, I don't get as much money as I would for 640 patients at a higher monthly rate, but I wonder if I could actually handle that number of patients with only two nurses if I selected out for more demanding patients with that higher rate. I doubt it. The longer I consider this, the more I'm convinced of its truth, and the less I am inclined to raise my rates (much to the chagrin of my accountant).
For those still unaware (perhaps looking through catalogs for gigantic inflatables for president's day), ICD-10 is the 10th iteration of the coding taxonomy used for diagnosis in our lovely health care system. This system replaces ICD-9, which one would expect from a numerological standpoint (although the folks at Microsoft jumped from Windows 8 to Windows 10, so anything is possible). This change should be cause for great celebration, as ICD-9 was miserably inconsistent and idiosyncratic, having no codes describing weakness of the arms, while having several for being in a horse-drawn vehicle that was struck by a streetcar. Really.
Like my practice, membership medicine is still in its early phases. Like my practice, the future of membership medicine depends on a lot of things beyond our control. But the excitement I hear regularly from physicians, residents, medical students, patients, business owners, and even politicians about its potential is quite remarkable. Both of these conferences were full of something that I once thought no longer existed: doctors who were excited about medicine and cautiously optimistic about the future.
So much bad stuff is (justifiably) said about the healthcare system, and how it is becoming distant, frustrating, impersonal, and dehumanized. That is certainly true in many settings, as we value data, documentation, diagnosis codes, and checklists over the humans for which it's supposedly built. My office is a sanctuary for me, my staff, and my patients from that impersonal world. But the time I spent in the ICU encouraged me greatly, as I saw that people there, in the middle of one of the most stressful settings in my profession, are still caring. They are caring about the work they do, caring about their patients, caring about the families, and caring about doing what is right. In the midst of the hectic world of the ICU, they took the time to talk to me even though I was not at all involved in the patient's care.
The drug test came back abnormal. There was THC present. I walked back to Mrs. Johnson and raised my eyebrows.
"What's wrong?" she asked, not used to whatever kind of look I was giving her.
"Uh, you forgot to mention to me that you smoke weed."
She blushed and then smirked. "Well, yes, I guess I forgot to put that down on the sheet. I don't do it real often, but sometimes it takes mind off of things. I just get real anxious about my kids, my husband...and my heart problems. I only smoke one or two a night"
She's not your usual picture of a pot-head. She's in her sixties, has coronary heart disease, irritable bowel, hypertension, is on Medicaid, and is the essential caricature of the the poor white folk who live in the deep south. And she smokes weed.