This dirty secret keeps doctors from doing their job

We are like a restaurant that charges handsomely for sit-down dinners but gives away food for free at the takeout window. And we only pay our providers for serving the dining room guests. If traffic gets backed up at the drive-through, we hold our providers responsible, even though we never planned for our ever increasing demand for takeout.

In simpler times, patients went to the doctor when they felt unwell, and doctors didn’t claim responsibility for what patients did on their own time between visits.

Now, doctors are working just as hard taking care of patients in the office, but they are also expected to — on their own time — handle all sorts of ongoing hand-holding between visits. This happens through phone calls, electronic messaging and reading and commenting on endless streams of reports from case managers, specialists, hospitals, emergency rooms, walk-in clinics, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance companies and medical supply companies.

There is talk about how all of this extra work will someday generate income streams from cost savings and improved outcomes. But today, the very foundation of how doctors get paid is how many patients they see in the office on a daily basis. Few health care organizations have the cash on hand to schedule provider time for what isn’t going to bring money in during the present budget year.

The dirty little secret we all deal with in primary care is this: We make our doctors, PAs and NPs see as many patients as they possibly can, with ever-increasing demands on the complexity of care they deliver, and on the comprehensiveness of their documentation and quality reporting. Then, we quietly assume they will be able to do all this extra, unscheduled and uncompensated work without falling behind, making medical mistakes or simply burning out.

Imagine a CEO who spent all day in meetings and never had any time to himself or herself available to think, plan or write.

Imagine an average office worker, who is said to spend 25 percent of their time on business-related email is suddenly told that all company emails from now on have to be done outside working hours.

Imagine a judge, presiding over case after case at the bench from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without any scheduled time to read briefs or write judgments.

Imagine a TV anchor, broadcasting eight hours a day, never taking any time to study the issues of the day or to speak with colleagues or newsmakers.

Imagine an orchestra, constantly performing, never practicing, never studying the sheet music.

And we are now offering resilience training to our medical providers to help them not burn out.

“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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