How to respond to the despair from physicians

It seems that in the past few weeks, physicians across America have reached the breaking point.

Internist Daniela Drake wrote in the Daily Beast about how miserable it is to be a physician. She talked about the lack of respect, the lack of time to see patients due to increasing paperwork and the ever-present board certification processes.

Orthopedic surgeon Daniel Craviotto Jr. wrote “A Doctor’s Declaration of Independence” in the Wall Street Journal. In it, Dr. Craviotto states that, “In my 23 years as a practicing physician, I’ve learned that the only thing that matters is the doctor-patient relationship.” He goes on to explain that mandates for electronic health records (EHR), the burden of board recertification, and changes in Medicare and Medicaid have added to the burnout facing so many physicians today.

I don’t know about you, but I applaud these doctors for speaking out. What’s even more troubling than the degree of frustration reflected in these articles are the comments left by hundreds of non-physicians. Apparently, many people think that physicians are a wealthy, complaining, and unsympathetic bunch.

How can we respond to this overflow of despair from our fellow doctors and disdain from our patient population?

Some facts that you may want to share with your friends, family and patients:

  1. Of the total health care expenditures in the U.S., physician salaries and reimbursements account for 8.6%. This is the second lowest of the Western nations. The lowest is 8.5%.
  2. The average physician salary in the U.S. is $191,500. And the average amount of debt from medical training in the U.S. is over $150,000.
  3. There is a predicted shortage of 90,000 too few physicians by the year 2020 in the U.S.
  4. Nine out of ten physicians state that they would not recommend their profession.
  5. More than 300 doctors commit suicide every year.

There are no easy, simple answers. Connection — to each other, to our support system, and yes, to our patients — is part of the equation. I agree wholeheartedly that feeling connected to a disconnected system is, at the very least, unsettling.

Creative solutions are needed. Such as the one suggested by Art Gardner, an Atlanta patent attorney, currently running for U.S. Senate. He determined that part of the high cost of health care in the U.S. has to do with patented medicine. The price of Crestor, for example can range from $7.50 per pill in the U.S. to $1.78 in Canada. To make a profit, the drug company needs to charge $3 per pill. In America, because of the patent laws, it turns out that Americans are subsidizing artificially low prices throughout the civilized world. It makes sense to help out the impoverished in Africa, but not so much to be subsidizing the Germans, for example.

Thinking outside the box like this can provide answers to reduce medical costs that don’t add to the destruction of the doctor-patient relationship we all cherish.

As I recall, the Declaration of Independence endowed us with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Perhaps we all need to take a chapter from history and infuse a little modern day George Washington in our world to lead us across the health care divide.

Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist, speaker and personal coach.  She blogs at Love Medicine Again and her upcoming book, Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine, will be available this summer. She can also be reached on Twitter @StarlaFitchMD.

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