After a great game of doubles tennis, a good friend brought up a recent visit with his primary care physician while sitting with friends, trying to cool down. He expressed appreciation for his position but complained about the need to see his doctor every three or six months, all the while acknowledging various medical problems being addressed.
This led to general comments by several non-physician friends about how they feel that the physicians feel obligated to have them visit several times a year as a requirement related to their pay structure. As the only physician in the group, I listened as I was trained to do but then went on to express my opinion about the importance of these seemingly unnecessary visits. The discussion ended, as always, with handshakes and pats on the back, as we were all old friends.
Later on, as I started to think about this discussion, I felt that it is important to dispel some of the most common notions about us physicians.
Certainly, the business aspect of a medical practice is well understood. I believe most people also understand that as individuals who went through years of schooling while accumulating large amounts of debt, we are entitled to make a decent living. However, the impression that the frequency of visits is mostly dictated by some sort of financial structure is certainly mistaken.
While we use the common analogy of our body needing maintenance care just as our vehicles and machines do, it is also important to point out that regular visits with physicians lead to a much better doctor-patient relationship and a more individualized care.
It allows the physician to get to know the person, where they come from, their family structure, and how their environment impacts their illness. I am always happy to see patients that have seen me for years come to their appointments regularly, and in many of those cases, I don’t even look at their chart in order to recall their history or even the medications they are on.
I believe that the ability to see patients at a reasonable, regular interval makes it a lot easier to intervene when there are problems. While the patient may perceive that their copay and the bills sent to insurance are the main driving force between the frequency of visits, the general public needs to understand that it is probably the least important regarding a long-term and trusting relationship with a physician. It is worth noting that most specialists and even primary care physician offices have weeks, if not months, waiting for new patients to get in. Obviously, there is no shortage in terms of replacing revenue.
I was able to end that conversation with my friend, who complained about the frequency of visits, by telling him that if his physician requires him to come in for an examination every three or six months, in my opinion, he has a very good doctor. And he should stick with him because he is likely to get excellent care if there is a health crisis.
Zahid Awan is a psychiatrist.
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