Readers Write: The Symbiosis of Care: The Re-Emergence of Professionalism and the Patient Satisfaction Impact
The Symbiosis of Care: The Re-Emergence of Professionalism and the Patient Satisfaction Impact
By Paul Weygandt
As a physician, it’s second nature for us to make sacrifices for the betterment of others, whether that entails missing the first half of your daughter’s soccer game to listen to a husband who is losing his wife to cancer or working 80 hours a week.
Having been in these situations, I can honestly say – and I believe the vast majority of physicians would agree – it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It is an unconscious reaction to another person who is in emotional or physical pain. In many ways, being a physician is instinctual – you automatically prioritize others’ needs over your own. And again, quite honestly, in my many years of practicing medicine, I rarely had to deliberate on where I needed to be – when you’re a physician, you just know.
The ability to provide care may come as second nature, but things like using ICD-10 compliant clinical documentation do not. It is no secret that changes in regulatory policies are placing new pressures on physicians and taking our focus away from patient care and practicing the art of medicine. Regulatory requirements are directly impacting the physician-patient relationship.
While capturing data on the patient experience is important, evaluating the physician experience and then acting on that data is of equal value. According to a recent American Medical Association/Rand study on physician satisfaction, quality of care is inextricably tied to professional satisfaction, and many obstacles to high-quality care are seen as major sources of dissatisfaction. The converse is also true. Any major source of physician dissatisfaction is an obstacle to high quality care.
We’ve found ourselves in a Catch-22. Government regulations are designed to improve patient outcomes, but they are doing so at the expense of those who are providing that care. The two most visible groups in healthcare are patients and physicians, and right now both are suffering under the burdens of a poorly designed system. Patients feel neglected and physicians feel like cogs in a wheel or workers on the healthcare assembly line, devastating medical professionalism and negating the patient benefits of that professionalism.
The ramifications of this situation are severe. After all, everyone has a breaking point. When 60 percent of physicians admit they would retire if they had the means to do so, it’s no longer just an isolated incidence of one or two hospitals’ poor processes or a few old physicians struggling to embrace new technology that is causing the problem. This has become an epidemic that is threatening to decimate our physician community across the country. It isn’t just a handful of luddites refusing to change with the times; it is something much deeper that is cutting at the very core of the medical profession and the physician’s vocation.
Now we’re back to that second nature ability that physicians possess. Physicians willingly made the conscious decision to dedicate their lives to others — to sacrifice for others. They didn’t pledge themselves to filling out onerous paperwork or to looking at a computer screen instead of into the eyes of their patients. It is time for the innovators, particularly those in the health IT community, to listen to physicians, conduct pain tests or do an Apgar score of sorts to closely monitor the health of the profession, and suggest new solutions that can begin to alleviate the discomfort of a sick healthcare system.
If non-essential busy work and non-patient demands can be decreased or eliminated, I think we will find that, once again, that physicians are able to spend their days caring for their patients. Addressing and fixing the myriad of non-clinical issues facing physicians will allow a rebirth of professionalism. That professionalism is, in turn, the basis for high quality care and patient satisfaction.
Paul Weygandt, MD, JD, MPH, MBA, CCS, FACPE is vice president of physician services of Nuance Communications of Burlington, MA.