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The “Big Picture” Benefit Of Primary Care

Her eyes were bloodshot. She responded to my casual greeting of “How are you?” with a sigh. “How am I? I’m alive, I can tell you that much for sure.” She went on to describe a situation with her adult son who’s in a bad marriage and has struggled with addiction. She sighed again: “I feel weak. I don’t know if I can deal with this one. I’ve had so many hard things in my life already. When will it stop?”

“Many hard things” — yes, I agree with that assessment. She’s been my patient for more than a decade, and I’ve had a front row seat to her life. Her husband died a few years ago (while in his 40′s) of a longstanding chronic disease. Her daughter also has this disease, and has been slowly declining over time. I’ve watched her bear that burden, and have actually shared some in that load, being the doctor for the whole family.

I’ve also taken care of her parents, who had their own psychological problems. They were difficult patients for me to manage, and they had died long enough ago that I had forgotten that difficult chapter of her life. I’ve helped her with her emotional struggle from all of this. It was hard, but she hung on as best as she could. I know. I was there when it was happening.

To me, this is the biggest benefit of primary care. Yes, it’s nice to have a doctor who knows what’s going on with all of your other doctors. It’s good to have a doctor you are comfortable talking with about anything. It’s good to have someone without a financial stake in doing surgery, performing procedures, or ordering tests. But the unique benefit a long-term relationship with a primary care physician (PCP) is the amazing big picture view they have. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

How An Empowered Patient Finds A New Doctor

What if the average patient (person) knew what healthcare insiders, providers and expert patients know?

Take the process of looking for a new personal physician. Conventional wisdom tells people that when looking for a new physician they need to consider things like specialty, board certification, years in practice, and geographic proximity. Online services like Health Grades allow you to see and compare the satisfaction scores for prospective physician candidates.

But industry insiders know different. Consider those patient satisfaction scores for physicians. In reality, “one can assume that the quality of care is actually worse than surveys of patient satisfaction would seem to show,” according to a 1991 lecture by Avedis Donabedian, M.D.:

“Often patients are, in fact, overly patient; they put up with unnecessary discomforts and grant their doctors the benefit of every doubt, until deficiencies in care are too manifest to be overlooked.”

Given the constant drumbeat about the lack of care coordination and medical errors, it would seem that some people (patients) are beginning to reach the breaking point alluded to by Dr. Donabedian. The empowered among us are starting to compare physicians (and the hospitals that employ them) to a higher standard – a higher standard that reflects the nature and quality of the medical services physicians actually provide. Empowered patients today are “being taught to be less patient, more critical, and more assertive.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Mind The Gap*

Relational Medicine: The Joy Of Primary Care

I was happy when I looked at [the day's] schedule. Two husband-and-wife pairs were on my schedule, both of whom have been seeing me for over 10 years. Their visits are comfortable for me — we talk about life and they are genuinely interested in how my family is doing. They remember that I have a son in college, and want to know how my blog and podcast are doing. I can tell that they not only like me as a doctor — they see me, to some degree, as a friend.

Another patient on the schedule is a woman from South America. She has also been seeing me for over 10 years. I helped her through her husband’s sudden death in an accident. She brings me gifts whenever she goes on her trips, and also brings very tasteful gifts for my wife. Today she brought me a Panama hat.

I know these people well. I know about their past illnesses and those of their children. I know about their grandchildren, having hospitalized one of them over the past year for an infection. I know about the trauma in their lives as well as what they take joy in. They tell me about their trips and tell me their opinions about the healthcare reform bill.

I spend a large part of their visits being social. I can do this because I know their medical situation so well. I am their doctor and have an immediate grasp of the context of any new problems in a way that nobody else can. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

How To Choose A Great Doctor

As a practicing family doctor, it’s easy for me to figure out how to choose a great doctor. Let me tell you the secrets in finding the best one for you and what I tell my family and friends. Look for the following:

– Board certification
– Report card on quality
– Licensing/public reporting

As a doctor, I know many doctors who have great bedside manner but aren’t particularly reliable in giving the right medical care you deserve, and these traits separate the so-so doctors from the truly excellent ones. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Solving The Primary Care Crisis: Are We Training Enough Doctors?

In a few years, every American will be required to have health insurance. As a result, the 32 million people currently uninsured will seek out a personal physician. This role typically is filled by a primary care doctor, like an internist or a family physician.

While passage of the healthcare reform bill affirmed the belief that having health insurance is a right rather than a privilege, the legislation falls short on building a healthcare system capable of absorbing the newly insured.

Universal healthcare coverage is not the same as providing universal access to medical care. Having an insurance card doesn’t guarantee that individuals can actually get care. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

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I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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