You are there to help bring a new life into the world, comforting and reassuring new parents.
You are there in the middle of the night to return a call to a distraught mom whose child is running a high fever and is panicked.
You are there to encourage and instruct a diabetic heart patient who wants to make changes in his life and who looks to you for guidance.
You are there to help a patient who suffers from depression and so desperately wants to feel the sunshine upon her face.
You are there to offer counsel to a teenager who is in an abusive relationship and has no one to turn to.
You are there when the diagnosis of cancer is given, and the silence in the room is deafening.
You are there through the successes and failures of your patients, steadfast in your compassion and support.
You are there to walk beside your patient so that he or she does not feel alone in facing an uncertain future.
You are there sometimes sacrificing moments with your own family because your patient is in need.
You are there as a healer, trusted advisor, and companion on this journey of health.
You are there.
So, what has gone wrong? The field of primary care, which is the cornerstone of medicine, has been transformed over these past few decades into a data-gathering machine for the benefit of corporate medicine, insurance moguls, and our government.
The private practice of medicine has been phased out of existence by rising costs associated with health care and the supposed security offered by corporate medicine. What has become of the family practice doctor? The position has morphed into one of the cogs in the machine of corporate medicine. Diagnostic skills have been transformed into ticking off boxes in electronic health records for eventual monetary reimbursement.
Technological advancements do not guarantee benefits for all. Often, the physician has lost his sense of connection to his patients, harried by the work schedule dealt him. There is no time for compassion and empathy; the line has to keep moving. If the doctor does not meet his monthly quota of patients, he will be “politely” reminded of that fact through lost monetary compensation for his work. Quid pro quo!
The primary care doctor in today’s health system, for the most part, is a worn-down individual. In attempting to satisfy a plethora of governmental mandates along with the interference of health insurance companies in the treatment of patients, a formidable burden has been laid upon our doctors.
Corporate medicine and how it is practiced today has led to some of our finest and experienced doctors taking earlier than expected retirement. The “burn out” of our doctors is happening in all of our communities, leading to shortages and, unfortunately, loss of life for those who see no other way out. Residency positions are being underfunded, and medical students are being told to pick other specialty areas rather than pursue a career in primary care. Upon receiving the medical degree, the graduate recites the Hippocratic Oath or some equivalent form. Within its composition is the statement of “doing no harm to the patient.” No one foresaw the harm that is now being perpetrated against our doctors and, as a consequence, their patients.
As patients, due to the dwindling number of primary care physicians, we are now being funneled into urgent care centers for our health care.
These facilities are generally manned by physician assistants or nurse practitioners, not medical doctors. Although both professions are adequately trained for their intermediate level of job function, neither possesses the years of training and medical knowledge that the MD has.
As we all live in a world of instant gratification, when we need a “doctor,” we need one now. It may come in the form of a visit to urgent care, to an emergency department, or a virtual doctor’s appointment online. You meet with health care provider “A” who gives his diagnosis to consumer “B,” and it’s a done deal. In all likelihood, never the two shall meet again. There is no ongoing doctor-patient relationship that can be developed under these conditions. For the young and “healthy” individual, this situation poses no problem. For the patient who suffers from a multitude of chronic conditions, is elderly, or one who simply wants to build a trusted relationship with his doctor, this can prove to be a recipe for disaster. What matters, apparently, is that the dollar bills still keep flowing into the till of corporate medicine.
So what is the solution to this immense and formidable situation we are in? We must realize that where we find ourselves now took a period of years to develop. Bit by bit, regulations were added, interference by health care insurance and pharmaceutical corporations increased, and now we find ourselves at the brink of chaos.
Similar to a wolf working his way stealthily into a flock of sheep before the sheep realize the impending danger, it is there facing them head-on. There are no simple answers, but ones that have to be arrived at by all parties working together. If our health care system is to survive, all must recognize the severity of the situation.
Doctors: Fight for your role as our physicians. Get your story out there in the public domain. Most patients are not aware of what a day in the life of a doctor is really like. It doesn’t simply end by punching out on a time clock at 5 p.m. Band together, do not let divisive forces work against you. Do not accept the usage of the term “provider.” Its use ushered in the downfall of our physicians as they took on the role of subservience. This was the objective of corporate medicine.
Patients: take offense to the use of the word “consumer” of health care.
We are not simply “consumers” of some impersonal products like items at the grocery store. We are individuals who are struggling to bring well-being back into our lives. Take an active role in standing beside your doctors as they take up the fight to regain the authority and respect they so rightly deserve.
In this time of recollection and promises for change, let us all realize what’s at stake: the loss of the very core of our health care system. It is a loss that we cannot allow to happen. Its resolution requires more than just nice-sounding words. It requires concrete steps of action.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient.
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