from blue to breathe

I attended a medical conference on line yesterday and today and it made me very blue. At first it just frustrated me, because it is about increasing behavioral health access. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, but they completely missed the biggest barrier for primary care: TIME.

With the current US medical corporate money extracting insurance non-caring system, primary care is increasingly forced into 20 or 15 or 10 minute visits. I fought my hospital district when they said “See patients for one thing only.” I replied “That is unethical and dangerous: if it is a diabetic with an infected toe, I HAVE to check their kidney function, because antibiotic dose must be adjusted if their kidney function is reduced.” And there are at least two and maybe three problems there: infection, and if the diabetes is out of control that worsens the infection, and then kidney function. And actually I have to be sure anyone going on antibiotics has good kidney function or adjust my dose. I am very very good at this, but it takes time. I can work with complex patients, with veterans, with opiate overuse, with depression: but none of this is a simple template slam dunk. A study more than a decade ago says that the “average” primary care patient had 5 chronic illnesses. My patients don’t want to come in for each one separately and anyhow, if they have kidney problems I have to pay attention when I pick medicines for their high blood pressure. None of it can be separated out. That is why medicine is complicated.

Someone asked why can’t I just post the price of a “simple” visit for a sore throat. But a sore throat can be viral, can be strep A, can be a paralyzed vocal cord, can be a throat abscess, can be vocal cord cancer. I can’t tell ahead of time. I can’t. Early on during covid, a patient called and wanted a Zoom visit for abdominal pain that he said was constipation. I said “No, I can’t do abdominal pain over Zoom safely.” I can’t ASSUME it is constipation. It was appendicitis and he had his appendix out that evening. He called from his hospital bed the next day to thank me for making him come in.

The conference made me blue because they ignored my questions about why they were not advocating for primary care to have more time with patients. They claim to be all about change, but changing the US medical system? Nope. Do not want to talk about that. But I do want to talk about it. You can help by letting Congress know: single payer or medicare for all. That insurance company gets 20 cents of every dollar to profit and wastes tons of money forcing doctors’ offices to call for prior authorization. And if we have single payer, think of all the small businesses that will start because the terror about health insurance will disappear! I think it would reduce everyone’s stress, except the insurance CEOs. And they have earned more than enough, goodbye greed.

I am also tired of specialists telling me that primary care needs to do MORE. When I get told that I am not doing enough about hypertension, bladder leakage, depression and stopping smoking, and then 20 other specialists lecture me. Ok, so one minute per topic to fulfill what all of them think I should do? I want a primary care conference where primary care doctors are celebrated: cases are presented where the specialist says what a brilliant job the primary care doctor did.

I received a consult letter from a cancer doctor a few years ago. He wrote that I had diagnosed the earliest case of chronic leukemia that he had ever seen and that he was impressed and the patient would do fine. That’s the conference that I want to go to: where primary care and specialists talk about that and we inspire more doctors to do primary care.

You can learn more and how to talk to your congressperson here: HealthCare Now: https://www.healthcare-now.org/

or at Physicians for a National Healthcare Program: https://pnhp.org

And put your vote and your money towards healthcare, not health insurance.

Patient Satisfaction Score

The latest issue of Family Practice Medicine has an article on patient satisfaction scores.

I remember my first patient satisfaction score VIVIDLY.

I am in my first family medicine job in Alamosa, Colorado. I receive a 21 page handout with multiple graphs about my patient satisfaction scores. I am horrified because I score 30% overall. I am more horrified by the score than the information that I will not receive the bonus.

I go to my PA (physician’s assistant). He too has scored 30%. We are clearly complete failures as medical providers.

Then I go to my partner who has been there for over 20 years.

She snorts. “Look at the number of patients.”

“What?” I say. I look.

My score is based on interviews with three patients. Yes, you read that correctly. THREE PEOPLE.

And I have 21 pages of graphs in color based on three people.

I am annoyed and creative. I talk to the Physicians Assistant and we plan. I call the CFO.

“My PA and I think we should resign.”

“What? Why?”

“We scored 30% on the patient satisfaction. We have never scored that low on anything in our lives before. We are failures as medical people. We are going to go work for the post office.”

“NO! It’s not that important! It is only three patients! You are not failures!”

“Three patients?” I ask.

“Yes, just three.”

“And you based a bonus on three patients? And sent me 21 pages of colored graphs based on three patients?”

“Um…”

“I think we should discuss the bonus further….”

I did not get the bonus. It was a total set up and I am not sure that ANYONE got that bonus. Much of the maximum “earning potential” advertised was impossible for any one person to get. You would have to work around the clock. They got out of paying us by having multiple bonuses that each required a lot of extra work…. They were experts in cheating the employed physicians. That became pretty clear and I was 5th senior physician out of 15 in two years, because ten physicians got right out of there. I lasted three years, barely. I knew I would not last when an excellent partner refused her second year of $50,000 in federal rural underserved loan repayment to quit AND stayed in the Valley working in the emergency room. I called the CEO: “Doesn’t this get your attention?”

“She just didn’t fit in.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think anyone will.” I asked my senior partner how she stayed. “You pick your turf and you guard it!” said my partner. I thought, you know, I hope that medicine is not that grim everywhere.

Unfortunately I think that it IS that grim and getting grimmer. Remember that in the end, it is we the people who vote who control the US medical system. If we vote to privatize Medicare, we will destroy it. Right now 1 in 5 doctors and 1 in 4 nurses want to leave medicine. Covid-19 has accelerated the destruction of the US medical non-system, as my fellow Mad as Hell Doctor calls it. We need Medicare for all, a shut down of US health insurance companies, and to have money going to healthcare rather than to paying employees $100,000 or more per year to try to get prior authorizations from over 500 different insurance companies all with different rules, multiple insurance plans and different computer websites. Right now I have specialists in four different local systems. The only person who has read everyone’s clinic notes is ME because it is nearly impossible to get them to communicate with each other. Two of them use the EPIC electronic medical record but consider the patient information “proprietary” and I have to call to get them to release the notes to each other. Is this something that we think helps people’s health? I don’t think so. I have trouble with the system in spite of being a physician and I HATE going to my local healthcare organization. Vote the system down and tell your congresspeople that you too want Medicare For All and single payer.

Physicians for a National Healthcare Program: https://pnhp.org/

Healthcare Now: https://www.healthcare-now.org/

I have had people say, but think of all the people out of work when we shut down insurance companies. Yes AND think of the freedom to start small businesses if we no longer have to fear the huge cost of insurance: Medicare for all!