My husband is a physician administrator in a big HMO. Not only does he oversee physicians and nurses, he continues to treat patients. He’s always put in 14-16 hour days, that’s no lie, but he’s working so hard now I’m afraid he’s going to give himself a stroke.
The physicians he supervises are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients, the charting, the coding, the phone calls, the emails, the lab tests, the letters, the follow up, that they are bordering on mutiny or developing anxiety disorders or both. Many are reducing their hours to part time, some are leaving their practice to become pool physicians, others are getting out of medicine altogether. Older, experienced practitioners are retiring the instant they become eligible for retirement instead of staying on, even with a reduced schedule, to see patients and mentor new physicians.
There are not enough physicians to care for the massive influx of new patients.
Nurses and medical assistants are taking stress leave in record numbers. There are so few medical assistants available that there are days my husband waits as long as 45 minutes for a patient to be put into a room. He can’t do the job of the medical assistant so he has no choice but to twiddle his thumbs. He comes home later than usual (which is really late), frazzled and furious. Patients assume the problem is a slow doctor. Nothing could be further from the truth. What they don’t know is that my husband has been begging the medical assistants to get his patients into exam rooms. But they have so much to do and so little time in which to do it, they don’t. They apologize, but still, they don’t.
Wait times for telephone service reps are getting longer and longer due to the enlarging pool of patients, causing an increase in patient complaints and poor outcomes. Now physicians, on top of everything else they do, have been asked to answer phone calls that would normally go to a telephone service representative or a nurse.
Insured patients with serious medical conditions insist upon being treated over the phone because a telephone consultation is free while they will have to pay full price for an emergency room visit. My husband recently had an awful time convincing a patient with severe crushing substernal chest pain and other associated symptoms of a heart attack to go to the ER. The poor man could not afford the cost. He was determined to book a regular clinic appointment the following morning even if it meant his death.
My husband tells me physicians are so stressed, so pushed to the breaking point, they are missing obvious diagnoses.
Friends and acquaintances and family members who previously had great health insurance policies now have to pay such high deductibles they are calling my husband at home for medical advice. He takes every phone call because he knows how desperate they are and how tight their budgets are. These are working folk.
The rich can afford healthcare. Paying top dollar is nothing to them. The poor get their healthcare for free. It’s everyone else, those who a mere two years ago had affordable health plans, who are getting screwed.
If he had it to do all over again, my husband says he would not become a doctor even though it was his calling from the time he was young. He’s told our own children they are not to consider medical school. The work is not only unmanageable, it is onerous.
It’s easy to brag about numbers of the newly insured, the very sick newly insured. Providing quality care for millions of people is something else altogether. Pundits don’t see it. I live it every single day.
My husband is a great doctor, a brilliant doctor. But the practice of medicine is killing him.