Looking back on my many years as a physician I thought it appropriate to comment on this profession especially in a time when the core values of physician-hood are being tested.
I truly am grateful and honored to continue to serve as a physician to my patients. Unlike other “jobs”, being a physician is a unique calling. Perhaps the best way for me to share with you the special nature of this profession is by relaying an experience from my first year at medical school at the University of Florida. The Chairman of Medicine, Dr. Lee Cluff facilitated a seminar entitled “What has modern medicine contributed to humankind?” Like good medical students we each chose a topic to present; infectious disease, heart disease, etc. Each week several of us presented an in-depth treatise on our topic that covered all the miraculous advances in medicine that aided our patients. When the last medical student presented their topic Dr. Cluff then proceeded with his contribution. He started by telling us that we were all correct in our summaries as to the contributions of modern medicine while at the same time we were also wrong. He went on to state that what has not changed in over one hundred years has been the role of the physician. Our responsibility is to our patients so that at “the end of the day” they can be assured they have someone to call in their time of need. He was emphasizing the critical importance of the physician-patient relationship; the trust, compassion and honesty of communication that must be developed.
I believe that if one replicated this seminar today focusing on the amazing scientific advances in all of medicine we would still fall back on Dr. Cluff’s core premise underlying the importance of the therapeutic alliance between physician and patient. As physicians we function as healer, friend, confidant and at times wise sage. This is quite a tall order which at times can be demanding. Nevertheless I believe that it is essential component of physician-hood. This brings me to the nature of medicine in this 21st century. The stunning advances in the science of medicine have unfortunately placed an undue focus on the science itself, placing the physician-patient covenant somewhere down the priority list. There are a whole host of factors responsible for this shift including the role that modern health insurance and the managed care industry have relegated physician providers to a subservient role. Health insurance in the previous century reimbursed the individual for covered expenses. The last two decades of that century saw the development of provider physician panels that essentially allowed the insurance companies to gain control of the marketplace. Provider physicians suddenly were faced with reduced controlled fee schedules resulting in higher volumes of patients. This then led to what we witness today, patient volume-related reduction in time spent with each patient. As one would imagine, relationships are based on time and experience and as a consequence the relationships of today's medical practice have suffered.
In Psychiatry, the advent of managed care has relegated the Psychiatrist to physician prescriber while non-psychiatrist provider panels provide the psychotherapy due to insurance cost issues. As I have indicated in the past, Psychiatry is no different from other fields of medicine in that the physician Psychiatrist core role is to be able to provide a diagnostic assessment after a comprehensive examination and data gathering. The treatment plan comes next which may include additional testing, psychotherapy and/or medication. I cannot over emphasize the importance of an evaluation that employs a comprehensive medical (bio-psycho-social) model.
Despite the misgivings outlined, I remain proud of my role a physician Psychiatrist and the honor of providing care to my patients. At the end of the day it is essential for all of us to know there is someone to call in our time of need.
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