As we have moved into the 21st century, we have witnessed a deterioration in our perception of our doctors of medicine. This has been a gradual, eroding process, quite possibly by the design of those in powers of authority in our government, health insurance corporations and the plethora of health care corporations. The assumption might have been to make these changes in the mode of operation gradually so that they would go unnoticed by the general population. An analogy would be to compare the process to that of a volcano which has been simmering for decades and then finally erupts. Its hot, molten lava flows surreptitiously over everything in its path choking out life. One might say this is a wild exaggeration on my part, but just stop and consider what the practice of medicine was like even 20 or 30 years ago when doctors had the autonomy to make decisions on how they would conduct the practice of medicine and when the family doc actually knew his patients and was able to give them the time and care they needed.
Governmental mandates have placed an immense burden upon our physicians and how they spend their workday. It seems the concern now has transferred from viable doctor/patient interactions to inputting data into electronic health records for the purpose of fee determination. Often a patient will leave an office visit to his doctor with only having answered yes or no to a series of directed questions off a computer screen. The doctor-patient relationship is being severely damaged by these so-called technical advancements in medicine. Our doctors want to hear their patients concerns but feel overwhelmed by the time constraints often placed upon them. As a result, the patient leaves the exam room feeling underwhelmed.
Individual primary care practices have almost gone the way of the dinosaur. They have been absorbed by health care corporations which offer potential financial security for the physician but at what cost? These corporations refer to our doctors as “providers,” a vague term which in my opinion belittles the years of preparation and sacrifice to acquire the title of medical doctor. This terminology should stir up discontent among all members of the health care profession such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, etc. who are referred to as “mid-level providers.” I have many so-called providers in assisting me in the course of living in today’s world. The term provider is defined by Merriam-Webster “as a group or company that provides a specified service.” For example, I have a provider who disposes of my trash weekly; I have a provider who supplies internet service, etc. Do we want to place that label on those individuals who are responsible for our health and our very existence?
As a patient, I have witnessed the sacrifices made by my doctors on my behalf. Not only do most put in long and hard hours during their work-day, but for many, this extends well beyond the normal 9 to 5 time frame. Additional hours are necessary to input patient notes, update medical records and contact patients with lab results. Most of this goes unnoticed from those on the outside. The bottom line: Often times the physician’s concern for their patients extends well beyond the office visit.
So in reparation for their personal sacrifice of time away from family, for the huge financial burden to acquire a medical degree, for the years spent in preparation to practice, for the stress placed upon them to make life and death decisions regarding our health care, we have slapped the label ” medical provider” upon them. The primary care doctor, once a revered position and a core position in the practice of medicine, is now struggling to stay in existence. Many are taking an early retirement or leaving due to burnout. This profession, has to a large extent, evolved into merely a cog of the well-oiled machine we call medicine in today’s world. The practice of medicine has morphed into visits to urgent care centers or visiting a “virtual” doctor on the internet. Although these alternatives may lessen the burden of the shrinking number of primary care doctors, it is only a band-aid for the problem.
A stand must be taken to prevent the disappearance of the family doctor. A good doctor-patient relationship is the basis for maintaining the health for those served. Without it, health care is doomed. Doctors: You are our heroes; you are our healers. Fight to regain the title that is rightly yours. If the current medical associations that you are members of have fallen short of their responsibility to you, then form new ones who will get the job done. We, doctor and patient alike, all have a stake in this troubling state of affairs.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient.
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