A call to arms: We are all part of the health care solution

Sunlight is diminished by threatening clouds infiltrating the once azure blue sky, clouds that are framed in blackness indicating dangerous times ahead.  Nature’s creatures are seeking refuge for they are wise to see the signs of impending danger.  If only man was wise enough to take cover.

It was heralded as the dawning of a new age in health care for all: the electronic health record or EHR.  My interpretation and summary after having read the following investigative article: “Death by 1000 Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong.” This topic has been largely left untouched by the press and, therefore, the general public is mostly unaware of its serious implications.

Doctors are attempting to make sense of a software program which is nonsensical in nature. Did anyone ever think to involve these same individuals that were to use the EHR software be involved in its initial development?  Frustration is on the faces of our doctors. This is not what they signed up for. The goal was to diagnose and heal the sick, not spend hours doing data entry in a system which is not user-friendly.

Meanwhile, the once close-knit doctor-patient interaction is often reduced to a patient seeing only the side of a physician’s head as he enters information into “the long and winding road” called the EHR.  It’s like there is a third party in the exam room that is stealing the attention that should be directed toward the patient.  A patient leaves feeling “underwhelmed” by the lack of full attention given to his health complaint, and the physician is left to perform a juggling act, attending to his patient’s needs and inputting codes into the computer for documentation and compensation.  It’s a circus act— juggling three balls in the air while simultaneously reciting the Hippocratic Oath!  Wonder why our doctors are experiencing burnout?

Meditation sessions for doctors aren’t going to solve the problem!  It’s not the quality of patient care that is important, but the volume of patients seen daily.  Patients are riding on a “conveyor belt” cycling through for their precious 15 minutes with their doctor. This is an affront to the skill level and training of our physicians.

Compounding the problem is the diminishing supply of family practice physicians. Our most talented are now selecting alternate career paths outside the field of medicine. Additionally, the physician has lost the ability to direct patient care. This has been transferred into the hands of health insurance corporations.

Our primary care offices are being replaced with urgent care centers or “minute clinics” in pharmacy chains. Our doctors of medicine are being replaced with physician assistants or nurse practitioners to cut costs and to maintain the volume of patients being seen.  Both professions are needed sectors of health care, but they should not be at the expense of our primary care physicians, their training, and extended base of knowledge.

Doctors: Remain ever vigilant.  Let your voices speak loudly to leaders of your professional associations that what has happened over the past several years will not be allowed to continue.  Work as a cohesive unit rather than being fractionalized.

Health care corporations: Acknowledge the stress and discontent your staff is experiencing and do something about it.  Make positive changes to the system.  Allow physicians who serve at administrative levels to voice their opinions on needed change without fear of retribution.  Realize that members of your staff are not merely income-generating parts of the corporate machine. Allow them to do their jobs efficiently and humanely.

Legislators: Enact only governmental mandates which are truly needed.  Fight for the common good, not just for the wealthy few.

Health insurance corporate executives: Realize that unless you have an MD after your name rather than an MBA, our physicians of medicine are the true experts to make the decisions as to what is necessary and needed treatment for a given patient.

Fellow patients: Have you noticed the time necessary to secure an appointment with your primary care doctor or a specialist?  It’s due to the shrinking number of primary care physicians and to physicians retiring early due to “burnout.”  Wake up America before it becomes too late.

Elect individuals to office who will truly represent the best interests of their constituents.  If they fall short, make sure that they are not re-elected. The influence of lobbyists should be monitored. Voice your opinions to your legislators. Write editorials to your local newspapers.

Expect as a patient that you have adequate time to spend with your physician at an appointment.  If your current site of medical care won’t listen to your concerns, then find one which will. Nothing speaks louder to corporate leaders of health care than the loss of revenue.  Doctors want the opportunity to spend more quality time with their patients during office visits, but the structure of corporate medicine today doesn’t encourage nor allow for that to happen.

We have been too complacent for far too long. The time is now to open our eyes to the reality we live in and to begin to be part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem by our lack of concern.

Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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