Medical Practice

The Public Health To-Do List is Choking Doctors and Jeopardizing Patients’ Lives

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

“By the way, Doc, why am I tired, what’s this lump and how do I get rid of my headaches?”

Every patient encounter is a potential deadly disease, disastrous outcome, or even a malpractice suit. As clinicians, we need to have our wits about us as we continually are asked to sort the wheat from the chaff when patients unload their concerns, big and small, on us during our fifteen minute visits.

But something is keeping us from listening to our patients with our full attention, and that something, in my opinion, is not doctor work but nurse work or even tasks for unlicensed staff: Our Public Health to-do list is choking us.

You don’t need a medical degree to encourage people to get flu and tetanus shots, Pap smears, breast, colon and lung cancer screening, to quit smoking, see their eye doctor or get some more blood pressure readings before your next appointment. But those are the pillars of individual medical providers’ performance ratings these days. We must admit that the only way you can get all that health maintenance done is through a team effort. Medical providers neither hire nor supervise their support staff, so where did the idea ever come from that this was an appropriate individual clinician performance measure?

Public health in its broadest sense is what drove down morbidity and mortality in the last 100 years. But most of those things are, at least in many places, easily and successfully done by people without medical degrees.

I don’t mean to be uppety, it is not beneath me to promote those things – I’m doing it gladly, but since I am not a solo practitioner, I believe those things can be done just as well by other staff, if necessary with standard protocols where a physician’s order is required. Ideally I would then just support or explain these things when patients have questions.

People are sick, people are worried about symptoms, treatments need adjustments, information from outside providers could affect our patients’ health or our own assessments and treatment plans for them. This is what we need doctors for, and experienced Nurse Practitioners and PAs.

Medical professionals are trained to diagnose and treat disease. Are there so many of us and are we so underutilized that our healthcare “system” can afford to fill our time with tasks that could easily be done according to protocol by non-providers?

It’s your choice, America. If you think there just might be a doctor shortage, an aging, sicker population and a looming decline in the health of our population – who should do what in healthcare?

Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.

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Res Morgan M.D.
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Res Morgan M.D.

Oh, it’s much worse than you describe.

The morons at the AAFP now tell us that we are responsible for surveying, analyzing, managing, and following up on our patients’s “social determinants of health” – housing, food, transportation, education, employment, family support – it’s all on our plates now.