Providers who want the authority of doctors: Let them have it

California doesn’t have enough doctors to provide healthcare to newly insured patients.

California state senator Ed Hernandez asks, “What good is it if they [state citizens] are going to have a health insurance card but no access to doctors?”

Wait. Health care insurance doesn’t mean that patients will have access to health care? Where have I heard that being said for more than 3 years?

The government is going to give patients their medical “insurance,” but access to physicians is limited by government policies, payment cuts, and administrative red tape — which are driving many doctors from the primary care business and are, in effect, rationing care to patients.

California’s grand plan is to allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners, optometrists, and pharmacists to provide primary care services. I liked one of the commenters who said that he went to see the doctor, but was referred to the janitor who gave him a bag of medications for $5. These other health professionals and their organizations seem to naively think that the patients they will treat only require management of simple medical problems. In reality, most patients have multiple interrelated chronic medical problems that must be managed together.

Take diabetes, for example. Will it really be cost effective to have an optometrist manage a patient’s diabetes and perhaps monitor the patient’s diabetic retinopathy while the patient still has to be assessed and monitored for diabetic nephropathy, diabetic wounds and wound care, diabetic neuropathy, the increased risk of heart disease, oh and the impotence that often accompanies diabetes? Should the optometrist prescribe Viagra for a diabetic patient with heart disease or not?

If the optometrist refers the patient to a bunch of physicians to make those decisions, then the government has just created an additional layer of bureaucracy which will cost more money.

If the optometrist just blissfully monitors the patient’s glucose levels, prescribes insulin and doesn’t regularly evaluate the patient for diabetic complications, then the patients are receiving government-sanctioned poor medical care. That should make the trial lawyers happy … if the optometrists have insurance for the millions of dollars in damages when bad outcomes occur.

These health care providers are begging to get in over their heads and we need to let them do so. The medical establishment should really stop fighting this idea.

Allowing governments to implement a system that reduces access to doctors, increases complexity in medical care, and that will likely increase bad outcomes will eventually create patient outrage with government officials who adopt the idea.

We all should be part of a team, but not everyone is able to play quarterback.

I predict that these types of policies, if implemented, will ultimately increase the demand for physicians.

Unfortunately, the underlying problem is that most of us will be expected to pay more in “taxes”, insurance premiums, and other fees … for less medical care.

But remember that everyone will be insured, so things will be OK.

In anticipation of hate mail from nurse practitioners, physician assistants, optometrists, pharmacists expressing outrage at my unprofessional stance because there aren’t any studies showing worse outcomes in medical care provided by those with less medical training, I’ll quote a comment that I posted a couple of months ago in response to a nurse practitioner who asserted that he had “the same ability to provide patient care [as physicians] based on the evidence.”

You’re right about all the studies, I’m sure. In fact, I bet there aren’t any studies showing that treatment rendered by grade schoolers is any worse than that rendered by nurse practitioners, so next down the line to help patients save money will be gifted grade school student phone advice and then Shaman Skype toddlers with their magical rattles of health. Goo goo ga ga.

I don’t care how good you think you are, if you can’t pass a doctor’s board exam, you shouldn’t be [independently] treating patients, so lose the ego. Actually, the law says that you can treat patients, but you damn well better tell the patients that you aren’t a doctor and then let the patients decide whether they trust you with their lives. But lose the ego, anyway. It’s a team sport and you don’t get to be the captain just because you think you’re better than everyone else. When there’s an emergency in the hospital, no one goes running to find the nurse practitioner.

“WhiteCoat” is an emergency physician who blogs at WhiteCoat’s Call Room at Emergency Physicians Monthly.

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