The growing culture of hostile dependency towards doctors

Let’s start with a disclaimer: I am not complaining; I’m just stating the facts.

Honest fact: The morale of doctors in the real world is low–and sinking lower.

I know what you are thinking. “Come on Mandrola, you are nuts if you expect us to feel sympathy for doctors–of all professions.”

Well, you can think that if you wish, but I’m calling it as I see them. And here is why it matters:

Because when you are sick, an available, rested, un-rushed and talented doctor is really important.

You know this: quality health care–real quality, not spreadsheet or Internet quality–stems from basic human-to-human interaction, between patient and doctor. Healthcare reform, with its emphasis on metrics, prevention of fraud and cost-cutting measures has forgotten the basics. Namely, that humans, who have dedicated their life and committed their self-esteem, practice medicine. To take care of people well, doctors need things:

  • We need face time with the patient–not with a computer screen.
  • We need time to listen, to examine and to treat.
  • We need to feel trusted.
  • We need our self-esteem.
  • We need leeway to be human.
  • And of course, we need to be paid a fair wage for the years of training that it took to acquire these skills.

In support of this view, I’ll call your attention to four posts from real doctors:

My colleague Doctor Wes Fisher talks of the growing culture of hostile dependency towards caregivers. Wes is rightly disturbed by a sensational and one-sided book review of surgeon-author Dr. Mark Makary’s Unaccountable. Agree or not with Wes, his words come from the heart of a man who hangs a lot of his self-esteem on the doctoring peg. Wes is a guy I would want to have as a doctor. If healthcare reform keeps going in this direction, patients will have fewer Wes Fisher’s around to pull them out of fires.

Here’s a quote (via email) from an esteemed colleague — another guy you would want as your doctor:

We doctors are absolutely being demonized.  Every day something new is written pinning our healthcare crisis squarely on our shoulders.  It’s really affecting me emotionally.  I’ve actually started to think it might be a good idea to take a media holiday for a while.  I appreciate that you still have the energy to fight.  I’m getting pretty tired.

One of the most obvious unintended consequences of cutting healthcare costs on the backs of doctors is the flight of good primary care doctors to concierge medicine. One of the best posts I have read on the topic of dropping out comes from Dr. Rob Lamberts. Dr. Rob is a beautiful writer and another passionate practitioner of medicine. I’ve been reading his stuff for years, and it is clear that Dr. Rob has unequivocally mastered the obvious.

Finally, there’s me. I wrote an In the Prime post today about the two sides of the canvas of healthcare reform. It was in response to a nicely written opinion piece in the Courier-Journal. A local doctor pointed out that we must not settle for anything less than universal insurance coverage. He’s right; but there is also the important question: What good is universal coverage if there are not enough caregivers?

Doctors don’t expect sympathy. That’s not what we want. We want the people–our patients–to know the consequences of hostility towards caregivers–be it in mistrust, hyper-regulation or lower pay.

We welcome reform, but we can’t sit still and watch it destroy the practice of medicine.

John Mandrola is a cardiologist who blogs at Dr John M.

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