Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Friday, April 13, 2018
    One of my CEO's favorite sayings is that the only field more heavily regulated than health care is nuclear power. Whether it's true or not, it certainly feels like it. Today medical practitioners are at the whim of online reviewers, insurance companies, federal and state inspectors... and on and on.

    I would agree with those who feel that quality (meaning keeping screening tests up to date, checking cholesterol and sugar levels, and so forth has improved with these reviews. However, it does take time and overall the doctor's job has become more difficult while reimbursements are going down. The rate at which doctors are retiring is increasing significantly. A lot of the burden of documentation falls on the shoulders of primary care doctors, with the result that fewer doctors are going into primary care. How to handle this situation?

    Right now my medical group is trying to solve this dilemma by changing our practice workflow. What that means is, we are trying to minimize no-shows, work down our backlog or wait time for new patients and see as many patients as we can per day. This all sounds good though so far I am not especially happy with what it takes to accomplish these goals.

    First, it is a given that we are going to see other doctors' patients as well as our own. These are called "team visits" and if we have any open slots patients get slung into them up to three days in advance. We also have to "groom" our charts (sounds like a bunch of chimpanzees working on each other) to open up slots. In other words, if a patient is coming in for a follow up on diabetes or thyroid issues, maybe they just need labs. Maybe we don't actually have to see them. Fair enough; but I have wound up overbooking my own patients on top of full schedules, and it feels as if I am going mad.

    I wrote the above a few months ago. We have now been practicing in this new way for eight months and I have to say that I am not a fan. For one thing, we've had two female physicians out on maternity leave for a large chunk of this time which means that we other doctors have been seeing a lot of their patients as team visits. For another, the front desk staff do not seem to have a good grasp of the art of scheduling patients appropriately (one of my fellow MDs had two rather unnecessary visits scheduled this morning). We no longer have our own front office staff (aka secretaries) who knew our practices well, and most of the patient phone calls are being managed through a central call center.

    The patients hate this. The doctors hate this, and the staff hate this. Our MD administrators have gone from assuring us "After the first year you will love how well this system works!" to "The groups we consulted with say this is a continuing learning experience even three years in..." Said MD administrators are practicing physicians who had to give up part of their practices so that they could administrate more - guess who winds up seeing their patients when they aren't in the office? Uh huh.

    This system of "doctor widgets," as one of my co-workers calls it, is apparently the wave of the future. It is a future I do not want to be part of. I've been giving this a lot of thought and although I would like to keep practicing medicine for many reasons, I am becoming more and more certain that I will not be a practicing MD all that much longer. Maybe another year or so, but I would like to retire as soon as I can.

    Sorry for the pessimistic attitude. Did I mention I'm on call tonight? That isn't helping.

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