Welcome back. Now that you have your families medical history documented. Let’s proceed to the next step of locating Drs. Let me start with a short antidotal story:
Healthcare customer: Could you recommend a high quality Doctor?
Hospital Executive: Do you know what they call the person at the bottom of
their medical class?
Healthcare customer: No, what?
Hospital Executive: Doctor.
In a world of ratings, scores, customer feedback and all sorts of mechanisms for customers to determine quality. Hospitals and healthcare providers continue to operate in the byzantine era of the forties and fifties when all Doctors sat atop the cultural intellectual and quality hierarchy. In this realm all Doctors and Hospitals are considered equal. As most of us know, this reality isn’t true. Now I recognize in this current environment of Covid 19 all medical professionals are considered heroes and rightly so. So for the appropriate context, my comments today are for more normal times whenever that might be.
People within the medical infrastructure will tell you the practice of medicine is a science. Thus giving society the impression the practice of medicine the aura of a “scientific” structure based on facts, proven theories, accountable results and evidence.
So let me tell a story which has surprisingly huge ramifications for today’s Covid environment. Once upon a time at the General Hospital of Vienna a Doctor by the name of Ignaz Semmelweis, was confronted with a medical dilemma. The Hospital had twin maternity wards and the death rate within one ward was almost four times that within the other ward. He studied and studied the potential differences between the two wards searching for the cause of the deaths. The only significant difference he arrived at was medical students tended patients in the ward with the higher death rate and midwifery students attended to patients in the ward with the lower death rate. Another factor he discovered was mothers that had delivered prematurely before arriving at the hospital also had a much lower death rate.
Then one day an unusual event occurred where a Doctor friend of Ignaz died after being “nicked with a knife” during an autopsy of a victim of the fever the women were dying from. With this new information Ignaz concluded the medical personnel that were touching cadavers were transmitting the disease back to the maternity ward. Because patients in the other ward were treated by midwifes that were not exposed to the cadavers, this would account for the difference it mortality rates. Ignaz immediately instituted a requirement for all medical personnel to wash their hands in a disinfectant solution. The result of implementing the procedure was the death rate dropped from 11.4% to 1.2%.
Here’s the shocker! The medical profession dismissed Ignaz’s theory. Over a hundred years later in 2002, a CDC report estimated 2 million patients contracted a bacterial infection while being in American hospitals, 90 thousand of those patients died. Just a few years ago CMS introduced financial incentives to motivate healthcare personnel to wash their hands.
Today, we are confronted daily with the mortality counts of a highly contagious disease. Health care workers are suited up with face shields, masks, specialty uniforms etc to protect themselves from contracting the disease. Just a few years ago, however, when the potential victim of bacterial disease was the patient, the industry did not share the same level of precaution nor the current level of reporting. Everyday the number of Covid deaths are reported by the 6 o’clock news sources. Imagine just a few years ago when 100,000 deaths caused by the hospital industry were ignored by the news media and just like during Ignaz’s life the medical industry. The reason I know is my father died as the result of a hospital acquired infection.
By now you’re wondering what does any of this have to do with finding a primary care physician? What this means for you and your physician is the representation created by Hollywood, the media and the industry isn’t completely current reality. Many physicians no longer are in control of how they practice medicine, because they’re employed by hospital providers or insurers causing their financial incentives to be impacted not only by the insurance companies but also their employers. So knowing who’s paying your doctor is important.
In the 1980’s with the advent of Medicare DRG payments, many health insurers adopted tactics to minimize their costs by changing how their customers accessed their doctors. Primary care doctors were somewhat vilified because they became known as “gatekeepers.” While before an insured patient could freely choose to see whatever doctor they wished to see whenever they wished to see them. This now meant in order to see a specialist, a gatekeeper first has to provide an “authorization.” For gatekeeper doctors that over-authorized, they soon found themselves eliminated from the insurers’ doctor networks. As we now in any complex systems, actions will cause reactions. In the case of healthcare, this caused the rise of “concierge doctors” and “concierge medical practices.” These are most often independently physician owned and operated. In most cases, they are not included in insurance networks and don’t accept insurance payments. In some cases, they include doctors that specialize in geriatrics, chronic diseases or specialty care ie orthopedics etc. The underlying driver for these “new” practices is in response to the “discounted” payments being offered by insurers.
So what was once perceived as a “one size fits all healthcare delivery system” healthcare reform has had the unintended consequence of pulling back the curtain, on what has always existed, a multi-level, variable quality healthcare system. That’s right The Mayo Clinic, The Cleveland Clinic, the MD Anderson Cancer Center are just of few healthcare providers that promote their excellence of above all others. No different than Porsche, Tesla, Audi or Mercedes-benz touting their autos as the best luxury autos in the very large United States auto market. Or Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, or Burberry touting their brands as the best in the world in their relative markets. So while the politicians have been working on making healthcare a right for all, accessible for all and affordable for all. The Healthcare industry is working on going from a “equatable and one size fits all approach” to a luxury branding strategy and searching for the customers they really want. And for those of you that doubt me Google “Cadillac” insurance plans or Concierge medicine.
What’s the next step in becoming a more powerful and sophisticated healthcare consumer? Get the right Primary Care Physician for you and each member of your family.
If you’re healthy right now that’s great. In doing “Your Family’s Health History,” you discovered some “symptoms” lurking in your family’s medical history like; cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity-related illnesses, Alzheimer’s/dementia, Parkinson, alcohol-related etc than it’s time to take action. If you don’t have a primary care physician, it’s time to get one. A good place to begin is with your insurer. Call and ask for a recommendation. Be prepared to explain exactly what you are looking for.
Like all parts of our lives, social media has also found healthcare. One survey showed over 75% of patients use online reviews as the first step in choosing a doctor. Another survey showed about half of “providers” were looking at physician review websites to understand their patients’ satisfaction levels. Another survey showed half of respondents would pick an out of network doctor vs. an in network doctor with less favorable reviews. In a very dramatic shift 80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. These factors are all indicators of a very different environment for choosing a doctor.
Here’s a list of additional sources providing information about selecting doctors.
-CMS Physician Compare website (Medicare.gov)
All of the above websites provide additional guidance on how to search for and select an appropriate doctor.
A critical point we want you to know about is there are at least two healthcare systems operating in this country (and probably more that we haven’t been exposed to). One is the general system comprised of all the Doctors, Hospitals, Nurses etc that are available to the general public that will be included in the aforementioned websites. In addition, there is an undisclosed healthcare system comprised of the Hospitals, Doctors etc the Doctors and medical community use. This is the “unofficial” highest quality medical System used by Doctors, Doctors’ family members, professional athletes and other influential people. Referrals to these networks occurs through relationships. If you want to access these networks, you must be willing to ask your Doctor where he/she would go for the treatment you’re seeking. In addition you may need to research and see where influential people are seeking care.
To summarize, having your and your family’s medical history in hand, you are prepared for the next step in becoming sophisticated healthcare consumer. Understand the industry is not yet prepared to cater to your needs or advanced knowledge. The healthcare industry will still attempt to treat you as a compliant, tolerant, obedient, submissive individual. Ultimately the care you need and receive will be directly influenced by your selection of a primary care physician to assist you in navigating the healthcare delivery system. This person needs your complete trust and confidence to act as your advocate. The level of your current involvement with the healthcare system is the primary determinant in selecting this person. Good luck in this next phase. The following phase will go more in-depth in selecting specialist doctors.