“To serve the art of medicine as it should be served, one must love his fellow man.”
– William Osler
There is sadness in my heart and my mind. With so many advances in the treatment of illnesses of the mind and body, why have we let our diseased health care system go untreated?
Hospitals in rural areas are being closed down and deemed non-profitable, forcing their patients to seek alternatives; those alternatives are often many miles away from home, potentially delaying treatment. Vulnerable medical practices and physicians are being absorbed by “for-profit” enterprises … not as a sign of altruism but, as the name implies, merely as a means of making a quick buck before the “for sale” sign hangs yet again on the front door.
The pandemic certainly exacerbated the deteriorating condition of many medical professions. Physicians retiring early…burned out as they watch their profession morph into something unrecognizable. Nurses feel overwhelmed and undervalued. Patients returning to their practices only find out that the staff has been replaced with new faces. Doctor and nursing shortages place a huge burden upon an already fragile system. Our best and brightest individuals are being told to seek other professions outside medicine. Why? Because the corporatization of medicine has turned this once highly respected field into one seen as a cold and money-grabbing scheme. Everything seems to spiral downward, with finger-pointing in all directions trying to confuse the issue. The blame, however, is to be shared by many.
Those who were in private practice initially thought that corporate medicine might prove to be a haven, that it would relieve some of the financial burdens and responsibilities. And it did to a certain degree. But with that came the shrinking of the power of the physician in treating his patients. Decisions to be made now appear to come from a series of checkboxes on a computer screen rather than face-to-face encounters between patient and doctor. Those far removed from the medical professions have now become the key players in the decision-making, potentially affecting the patient’s life and death.
Voices have been silenced for fear of various forms of retribution. Associations that were to represent our medical professionals seemed to have been swayed by the lure of monetary paybacks, sometimes allowing the “fox within the hen house,” in a manner of speaking. Something to consider is forming new associations, groups that will truly represent your best interests instead of ones that are seemingly being fed by lobbyists who represent the big money makers, such as big pharma and insurance companies.
Another ploy used by corporate medicine is to group the majority of health care professionals under the generalized term “provider.” Supposedly, this was aimed at having a quick means of identification. However, this fuzzy term tends to muddy the waters; that is, the public, the patient, has no means of knowing, with certainty, which they will be facing in the exam room: MD, NP, PA, etc. For example, some individuals identify themselves as Dr. A to the patient, but in reality, they may instead be nurse practitioners. I’m not discounting the value of this profession, merely pointing out the disparity in the years required in experience and education to achieve the said title for an MD. It appears to me that the broad term “provider” is used to potentially disguise the filling of a vacant MD position with an NP or a PA. These positions are generally paid below the level of an MD, thereby saving the corporation money. The public is none the wiser.
What do we need as a people to happen before we awake from the stupor we are in? Getting medical service from a big box store? Oh, wait a minute, many of us already are. No chance of building a strong and trusting relationship between a doctor and patient when the game plan is to get you in and out as quickly as they can… remember time is money. Why waste time on frivolities such as empathy, compassion, and listening to the patient’s story? The idea is to keep you coming back without finding the root causes of the health problem. But heck, there’s money to be made with that thinking.
We all need to put on our “big boy, big girl” pants and tell the powers that be that we have had enough and sacrificed enough. Health care costs have skyrocketed, and the quality of health has been lowered. New elaborate buildings and structures now dot many health care campuses, but what is missing here..thought and effort into quality staffing of said structures. Quality doctors and nurses must feel that they are being encouraged and supported by those entities which employ them. I would dare to say that many of these professionals feel that they are merely undervalued parts of the corporate machine. This is especially true in the area of primary care versus those in specialty areas such as cardiology or surgical practices, which are thought of as the high money makers within a health system.
Honestly, I don’t have a ready solution on how to pull us out of the muddy mire we find ourselves in. This is a topic I’ve talked about in earlier postings. Keep in mind that this situation has evolved over the years, and it will take some time for us to work our way out. It is my sincere hope that improvements will eventually happen. What I do know is that we cannot remain silent. There must be an outpouring of unified voices, medical professionals and patients alike, calling for reform and demanding change. None of us can remain on the sidelines on this issue, for to do so is to accept defeat, but more importantly, to eventually witness the total unraveling of health care as we once knew it.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.