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Guaranteed Quality Medical Care: Fantasy or Reality?

I have witnessed various disappointing doctor-patient interactions over the years. Sometimes the doctor is insensitive, other times he or she doesn’t listen to the patient – and errors can result. Young physicians are more prone to inappropriate patient and family interactions when they are feeling inadequate and insecure. A fellow blogger describes just this kind of problem with a young pediatrics resident:

A meek lady with a white lab coat
walks in and just starts asking medical questions. So
my answer to her first question was “Who are you?” She apologized and
said she was the pediatrics resident and asked a bunch of questions
that didn’t seem to us to have much bearing on the situation at hand.
We asked about why my son was making unusual gasping breaths ever since
he woke up and she said it was because he was crying. We said that he
was making these breaths before he started crying. She then said it was
probably hiccups. My wife, who is a registered nurse, said there was no
way it was hiccups because she felt him pressed against her body and
could tell. The resident then said that it was probably due to the
anesthesia. I could tell she was just giving that answer to say
something but really had no clue what was going on. So I challenged her
on it and said “Have you ever seen this after anesthesia before?” She
paused and said, “Maybe once.”

Although this is not the wost example of an unsatisfying doctor-patient interaction (read the rest of the post to get the full story), it is pretty typical for inexperienced physicians to “make up” explanations for symptoms or problems that they don’t understand. This can be dangerous or even life threatening if certain symptoms are ignored.So how do we protect ourselves against this kind of potential error? Sadly, the current quality assurance programs are rather ineffective. In his recent blog post about ensuring physician quality, Dr. Scalpel published a letter he recently received from his hospital. The letter was prepared as part of the Joint Commission quality assurance program. They actually require doctors to get a letter of recommendation from someone (who doesn’t work with them) to ensure that they’re practicing good medicine… It’s like asking a stranger to grade your work competence.

Dear Dr. Scalpel:

accordance with Joint Commission regulations, we are required to
request an evaluation of your clinical performance. The Credentialing
Committee now requires the completion of an evaluation form by a peer in your specialty who is not a member of your group practice.

you will find a letter and accompanying evaluation form which you
should forward to a peer of your choice for completion. In order to
proceed with the processing of your reappointment application, it is
necessary that you ensure that the required evaluation form is
forwarded to a peer and returned to us in a timely manner. A return
envelope is provided for this purpose. Please note that the evaluation
form must be returned to us by the person completing the form. If we do
not receive the evaluation form before ________, your clinical
privileges may be interrupted.


An Unnamed Bureaucrat

So, how do you ensure that you’re getting good medical care? It’s not easy, and you can’t necessarily depend on oversight committees to come up with sensible safeguards. Being an informed patient is part of being an empowered patient – you should do what you can to research your doctor’s and hospital’s credentials and reputation (you can do that right here with Revolution Health’s ratings tool), you should read about your diagnosis or condition on reputable websites like Revolution Health, and you should advocate for yourself or loved one at the hospital when necessary. You have the right to reasonable explanations for care decisions – and if you’re concerned about a symptom, you should ask about it.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee quality medical care. However, perhaps the most important thing you can do (besides advocate for yourself and become educated about your condition) is to develop a close relationship with a primary care physician.  Establishing a medical home with a good primary care physician can go a long way towards helping you to navigate the system. They can be your best advocate in this broken system.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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