The demand apathy that doctors increasingly face

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Monday afternoons are always the same.  I pick up the kids from their grandparents.  We drive home with their backpacks and a carton of home made food.  We park in the garage, and carry all the contents of the car into the house.  As the kids unload, I push the recycle container to the front for street pickup the next day.

Occasionally, I stop and socialize.  Yesterday, I waited at the edge of the sidewalk as a neighbor approached.  A young healthy fellow, I was surprised to see his posture stooped and his head bent forward.  Apparently he was under the weather.  He had a slew of symptoms: fevers, chills, and a sore back.

I inquired about his recent doctor visit.  His physician was top notch, I had suggested him myself.  But that’s when my neighbor’s face became particularly animated.  His visit  the week before had ended in blood tests and an x-ray.  But seven days later, no results.  In fact, several calls over the last forty-eight hours had been left unanswered.

I shook my head and watched him stumble into his house.  I knew his doctor to be of high quality, but ever since he had been bought by the local hospital, the number of complaints had risen.  It was a common issue.  A few patients each week were showing up at my doorstep because they felt like the practice they had been going to for years no longer cared for them.

I would like to believe that this was only happening in the big medical groups, but I have heard the same among private practices also.  And sadly, I feel fairly certain that I know why.

In the old world, physicians answered only to one master: the patient.  In the new world order, patients are becoming a lowly voice in the crowd of entities shouting at physicians.  There is a kind of demand apathy.  After tending to the insurance companies, the government, the hospital, the medical group administrators, and the electronic medical record, your physician may or may not have time to address your needs.

We talk of the devastation of physician suicide.  We lament as more and more doctors bow out of clinical practice.  But on a larger scale, what may be most harmful to the American populace is the great apathy that is sprouting in this once proud profession.

My neighbor will eventually get better.  The virus attacking his system will abate.  The inflammation will resolve.

His trust in the system, however, has suffered a mortal blow.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician and founder, CrisisMD.  He blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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