I’ve been asked previously what I think is the biggest challenge facing medicine or surgery in the future. Many physicians and futurists would suggest that personalized medicine, genetic therapy, cancer cure, public health, nanotechnology and many other things are going to form several of the biggest challenges ahead of us.
The more I spend time in medicine and surgery, the more I reflect on the future of medicine, the more I see the struggles of my colleagues, the more I am convinced that there really is only one big challenge to the future of medicine.
The biggest challenge facing Medicine is this: the challenge of reclaiming its heart.
Medicine is a noisy and ineffective business. It has turned into a mammoth industry with many disjointed components. Patients and doctors alike get lost in the system. What started as a confidential, compassionate doctor-patient relationship has evolved into a doctor-google-admin-lawyer-nurse-allied health-patient relationship. I feel I can hear my lawyers and managers speaking into my mind whenever I’m consulting with a patient. Throw in health economics, biotechnology, medicolegal, department of health protocols, medical education and patient care becomes fragmented and sluggish. No wonder in this age of patient satisfaction surveys very few patients, and doctors, are actually satisfied with medicine. Half of all doctors surveyed would not recommend medicine as a future career.
We need to reclaim and rediscover the heart of medicine. We need to reclaim its essence and purpose. It is a science of humanity. It is more than a mere science of diseases; it is a science of life. It is the business of helping others. Helping others return to health. Helping others return to function. Helping others lead better lives. “Doctor” comes from the Latin “docere” which means “teacher.” Our primary purpose is to teach patients to live well, in the midst of assisting with their ailments. To this end we do not do it alone, we do it with our fellow healthcare workers who share the same goal. We do it with the nurses, pharmacists, physios, dietitians, speech pathologists, respiratory therapists, counselors, social workers, pastoral care workers, audiologists and many others.
How to reclaim the heart of medicine in your practice would look different to how it will look in mine. For me, this does not mean more programs, targets or KPIs. For me, this means more compassion, more attention, more education, more communication. For me, this means better self-care to ensure I am giving to my patients from a healthy space, not an exhausted depleted space. For me, this means fewer positions of authority and more places of collaboration. For me, this means returning to the reasons why I did Medicine in the first place. For me this means humanitarian missions, not to change any lives out there but to change my heart in here.
Reclaiming the heart of medicine is not a scientific concept. I doubt it can really be measured. I’m certain, however, that our patients know what this means. They know that they’re tired of being treated as a commodity. They know that the heart of medicine has been lost and needs to be resuscitated.
For the sake of our patients and the future of medicine, let’s reclaim the heart of medicine. I hope this silly little concept can start a ripple of conversation.
Eric Levi is an otolaryngologist in Australia who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr Eric Levi. He can be reached on Twitter @DrEricLevi.
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