Medical care, dr dale peterson, malpractice, clinical performance, "Physicians Believe Many Patients Receive Too Much Care"

Redefining Medical Care

Redefining Medical Care

© 2011 Dr. Dale Peterson &

A recent headline caught my attention. It read Physicians Believe Many Patients Receive Too Much Care. Why, I wondered, would physicians think they are caring too much about their patients? I read further looking for an answer.

I discovered that the term “medical care” no longer means what it once did. There was a time not so very long ago when medical care referred to services provided by physicians and nurses. It meant setting broken bones, suturing wounds, listening to concerns, treating infections, and providing counsel and comfort. Today the term has taken on quite a different meaning.

The physicians surveyed were referring not to their interaction with patients, but to the number of diagnostic procedures being performed. “Medical care” meant blood tests, x-rays, scans, and other procedures. The physicians actually reported that lack of time to spend with patients was one of the reasons that those using their services were receiving too much “care.” The others were fear of being accused of malpractice and the need to meet clinical performance measures for insurers and governmental agencies.

The survey results reflect the changes brought about by the intrusion of third parties into medicine – entities that value tests and procedures and view the traditional doctor/patient relationship with disdain.

I recently read a story that makes the point in a humorous way. It seems that a woman brought her pet hamster to a veterinarian. “What’s wrong?” the doctor asked.

“Hammy stopped eating several days ago,” she began. “Two days ago he stopped moving around in his cage and for the last 24 hours he’s done nothing but sleep.”

The veterinarian took out a stethoscope and listened to the hamster’s heart and lungs. He then picked up a flashlight and shined it in the animal’s eyes. He sighed and said, “I’m sorry ma’am, but your hamster’s dead!”

“How can you be sure?” the lady retorted. “You’ve run no tests of any kind. Your diagnostic methods are totally unacceptable. I demand that you be more thorough.”

“Very well,” the doctor replied. He left briefly and returned with a Golden Retriever. The dog stood on its hind legs, put its paws on the table, and sniffed the hamster from head to tail and back again. He then dropped his tail and shook his head side to side while whining sadly.

The vet left once more and came back carrying a calico cat. He placed the cat on the table next to the hamster. The cat pawed the woman’s pet gently, feeling it from all angles. It then shook its head sadly, jumped off of the table and followed the vet out of the room.

A few minutes later the doctor returned and told the woman that his original diagnosis had been correct. He then presented her with a bill for $1500.

“Your bill is outrageous!” she snapped. “How can you justify charging so much just to tell me that my hamster is dead?”

“My office visit is $50,” he explained, “but I had to add the cost of the lab report and the cat scan.”

People are not receiving too much care. They are receiving too little care and physicians are ordering an excessive number of tests in an attempt to compensate. The system is broken. The average physician is unable to spend an adequate amount of time face-to-face with patients and costs are out of control. As long as care is defined by tests and procedures rather than by relationships the situation will only get worse.

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