Killing the healer, in 600 words or less.

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.

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10 thoughts on “Killing the healer, in 600 words or less.

  1. Marylin Warner

    As we drive to/from Kansas each month, we listen to a lot of talk radio. The last two months’ trips have been excessive promotions and step-by-step guidance for the still-uninsured to “apply now” for insurance, promising that the costs will be subsidized and therefore probably no cost at all to them. In Colorado, even those with basically free insurance still go to the ERs for care. Either way it’s free to them, and they continue with the “known” care, clogging up the ERs because it’s more convenient.
    You give the big picture personal details, Julia. We’re drowning, and every new life ring we’re thrown just sinks us faster. But I don’t see that either party is actually going to do anything to repel Obama care; all the politicians have their own plans and physicians and have no true incentive to do anything.

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    1. juliabarrett Post author

      I don’t see any easy solutions, Marylin. I think the free market can come up with some, government can learn to be more efficient, i.e., cost efficient (haha). I have some ideas but nobody is asking me. Whatever approach we take needs to be a step by step approach– learn from other countries’ mistakes and successes. Incorporate any program over a period of years – as in decades.
      Most physicians really just want to help people. It’s not a matter of money. Most people become doctors because they view it as a good career helping others. Now it’s a miserable career barely managing to help others. I think we’ll have to look at different fee for service models. There are a few around the country.

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  2. anny cook

    I’ve talked to my own doctors about the new rat race. Now that we’re medicare patients, it’s even more onerous because of the idiotic paperwork the government requires. I try to be a ‘good’ patient…go for my check-ups on time, take my list of questions, follow my doctor’s orders. I understand everything you had to say. And wish I didn’t. Blessings on your both.

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    1. juliabarrett Post author

      Thanks, Anny. It’s not your fault. It’s not the fault of any patient. It’s a broken system that has gotten waaaaay more broken over the past few years.

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  3. Greta van der Rol

    Yes, it’s a broken system. We have a pretty good system here in Oz. But our government seems determined to take us down the road to an American system. I shudder at the thought. And I sincerely sympathise with you, and your husband.

    Liked by 1 person

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