While my practice doesn’t accept money from insurance companies, we do serve our patients for the sake of their health. This means that we advocate on their behalf in a system that seems hell-bent on making care less accessible. Prior-auth hell is one example of this wall that has been built up between people and reasonable care. Electronic medical record hell, pharmacy trickery hell, specialist non-communication hell, bloated hospital gouging hell, media non-story hype hell, and opportunist alternative medicine hell are all contributors to the hell-fire heat we are all feeling.
The real problem was that I cared too much. I couldn’t short-change the patient once I was with them in the exam room. I couldn’t force them to only give me one problem, make them reschedule for something I could handle that day, or refuse to check the ear of the child who happened to be in the exam room with the patient. I am a caretaker. I am a giver. Yeah, I get taken advantage of because of that, but I thrive off of taking care of people. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s what I’m on this planet to do.
And I was being robbed of that.
With so much attention to physician burnout and the high cost of care, the discussion spends far too little time talking about the lack of time most primary care docs have for their patients. Before I left my old practice (nearly 7 years ago!), I was increasingly burdened by the fact that I was increasingly being robbed of the time necessary to give good care. I was spending too much time dealing with red tape from the insurance companies and from the rules from the government aimed at “improving care.” Since quitting, I’ve yet to see more than 15 patients in any given day, and am often reminded how much my patients appreciate the time I can spend with them.
So how to pull myself out of my writer’s block? Write about or rupturing healthcare system? Write about the abuse of doctors at the hands of our insurance (and government) overlords? Write about the insanity of politics and the mutilation of common sense? Write about the royals? About Cheetos? About mutant ducks?
Whoa. Mutant ducks. Hmmm. Maybe I should start writing again. I wonder if they eat Cheetos.
I gave a TED talk. Okay, it was really a TEDx talk, done right here in Augusta, GA (the garden city...which sounds good until you realize New Jersey is the garden state) on February 3. The talk was entitled "Hi, I'm Rob and I'm a Recovering Doctor," and it focused on how two basic changes in how doctors are paid can totally change the patient experience
“Don’t worry, doc. It’s just one eye. I’ve got two.”
My stomach lurched to hear this statement. A guy who has done nothing wrong aside from choosing self-employment (and perhaps inheriting less-than-stellar genes) is left with the choice: financial devastation or blindness in one eye. He works hard, has served the country, didn’t complain to me at all, yet here he is about to be swallowed by the ever widening maw of impossible medical expense.
I am normal.
OK, aside from that llama thing.
I have good days and bad. Some days I am content, connected, focused, and motivated. On those days I enjoy my job, I enjoy the people I’m with, I am willing to be inconvenienced by interruptions.
On other days…not so much. I wake up grumpy and (despite multiple cups of coffee) continue it through the day. I keep score of all the ways in which life has conspired to make the day difficult. Too many red lights. Too windy. Clearly terrible things going on. I am not patient with people, and am distracted by little things.
Like I said: I am normal. I do my best to not let these things stand in the way of the care I give, and I try to hide my emotions from my patients. It’s a necessary part of the job. But there are still days I’m better at it than others.
I recently went hiking in a beautiful national park outside of Columbia, SC. This park was in a swampy area and contained all sorts of wildlife (called “critters” down here) and plant life (called “trees and those other things” down here). When I was young, my dad would take us kids on hikes through the Adirondack Park in New York, and so being on hikes in nature hits my soul in a very deep spot. It’s emotional, it’s physical, it’s a treat to my senses, and it’s a spiritual experience for me.
Being a doctor involves hearing a person's narrative and working to direct it in the best direction possible. There are some people for whom I have become a significant part of their narrative, and others whose narrative I know better than anyone else. It's a bond that doesn't happen anywhere else.