Who speaks for the doctors who spend time with patients?

Among physicians, there’s tremendous contention as to who represents the “true” voice of doctors.

There are indeed various lobbying groups, but as Stanford’s Abraham Verghese writes in a recent WSJ column, “Our esteemed medical societies and academies aren’t speaking for medicine; they are lobbyists, defending their financial self-interests, lining up for or against the latest bill being proposed,” and that, “our great academic institutions and our esteemed medical schools have historically spoken for the cause of medicine, but these days many medical schools are more like big companies with complex financial interests in large hospitals and clinical practices.”

And that’s true. There is no one representing the doctors “in the trenches,” so to speak, despite plenty who “give their weekends to clinics for the homeless . . . volunteer their services to community nonprofits . . . [and make] home visits to the housebound, poor and elderly.”

We do need to hear their voices, because it is they who will be relied upon now, and in the future, especially if universal coverage is enacted. The current reform proposals do little to change the fact that time spent with patients is undervalued:

Physicians like those should speak up for medicine, and argue in favor of paying doctors to spend time with their patients. They should fight against a payment system that has created perverse incentives that encourage unnecessary treatments. Let’s make it as lucrative to talk to the patient as it is to do to the patient.

Well said.


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