How primary care is being held hostage to tertiary care

an-ingrown-toenail-is-not-a-lung-transplant

Illustration by Jorge Muniz, PA-C.

Here’s a quick review of health care delivery basics:

Primary care. Stuff you can get handled with your primary care doctor in your neighborhood. Example: ingrown toenail.

Secondary care. Stuff your primary care doctor refers to a secondary specialist down the road. Example: colonoscopy.

Tertiary care. Complex stuff you need to deal with at a big-city hospital. Example: lung transplant.

Simple. Right?

Here’s the problem: In modern medicine, we’re holding primary care hostage to a tertiary care delivery model.

If you’re getting a lung transplant, you need a 5-story hospital with helipad, medical team, insurance coding/billing software (you actually need insurance to cover the $500,000+ bill) and all sorts of special machines and complicated equipment. If you’re getting a colonoscopy, you need one person to shove a tube up your butt in a simple office with a few staff. If you’ve got an ingrown toenail, you need one primary care doc in one tiny exam room with a pair of scissors.

When we force ingrown toenails and buttholes to subsidize 5-story hospitals, helipads, medical teams, and insurance systems, we create incredible inefficiency and expense. In fact, all that crap is not only unnecessary, it just gets in the way and makes your $100 toenail or $1000 colonoscopy cost hundreds and thousands more!

When we force primary care to pay for the infrastructure of tertiary care medicine, we end up with assembly-line medicine in which patients are forced through 7-minute visits. Both high volume and price gouging are required to pay for the unnecessary helipads and hospitals for your ingrown toenail.

I’m a family doctor, and I’ve been delivering primary care to my community for decades. I’ve removed ingrown toenails and metastatic lung cancer. I’ve cared for psychiatric patients and complex neurologic conditions. In fact, I can deliver care for 99 percent of what ails my patients right in the comfort of my 280-square-foot office. Just two chairs. One exam table. And no staff.

All I really need is my brain. And my brain tells me we must stop allowing buttholes to design primary care delivery in America.

Pamela Wible pioneered the community-designed ideal medical clinic and blogs at Ideal Medical Care. She is the author of Physician Suicide Letters — Answered and Pet Goats and Pap Smears. Watch her TEDx talk, How to Get Naked with Your Doctor. She hosts the physician retreat, Live Your Dream, to help her colleagues heal from grief and reclaim their lives and careers.

Jorge Muniz is an internal medicine physician assistant, illustrator, and author of Medcomic: The Most Entertaining Way to Study Medicine.

Image credit: Medcomic.com

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