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So Many Patient Complaints, Not Enough Time

Primary care physicians often have to see patients with a litany of issues — often within a span of a 15-minute office visit.

This places the doctor in the middle of a tension: Spend more time with the patient to address all of the concerns, but risk the wrath of patients scheduled afterwards, who are then forced to wait. And in some cases, it’s simply impossible to adequately address every patient question during a given visit.

It’s a situation that internist Danielle Ofri wrote recently about in the New York Times. In her essay, she describes a patient, who she initially classified as the “worried well” type:

… a thin, 50-year-old educated woman with a long litany of nonspecific, unrelated complaints and tight worry lines carved into her face. She unfolded a sheet of paper on that Thursday morning in my office with a brisk snap, and my heart sank as I saw 30 lines of hand-printed concerns.

Ms. W. told me that she had recently started smoking again, after her elderly mother became ill, and she was up to a pack a day now. She had headaches, eye pain, pounding in her ears, shortness of breath and dizziness. Her throat felt dry when she swallowed, and she had needling sensations in her chest and tightness in her gut. She couldn’t fall asleep at night. And she really, really wanted a cigarette, she told me, nervously eying the door.

This is the kind of patient who makes me feel as though I’m drowning.

Dr. Ofri did as many doctors do: She listened appropriately, went over the patient’s history and physical, reviewed prior tests, and concluded that many of her symptoms were due to anxiety. Except, in this case, they weren’t. The patient eventually had a pulmonary embolus, and hospitalized. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Patients Starved For Time With The Doctor

If you’re into health care consumerism, you’ll enjoy my guest blog post at CDHC Solutions magazine. CDHC Solutions focuses on consumer-driven health plans. Consumer-driven plans are a form of “high deductible” health coverage that is more popular than ever. For whatever you want to say about these plans, one thing is clear: They don’t solve the fundamental problem of patients not having enough time with their doctors.

Here’s a taste of what I wrote:

Researchers have been trying to pinpoint the impact of this time starvation on the quality of medical care, and they’re finding disturbing results. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that because of time pressures and related factors, doctors deliver “error-free” care as rarely as 22 percent of the time. The researchers called this a “failure to individualize care,” which is a nice way of saying the doctors just weren’t paying enough attention to the needs of their patients.

Read the whole blog post here.

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

How Patients Can Enhance Communication With Their Doctors

From Kevin Pho’s medical blog, KevinMD, a post archived from 2004, Pho talks about the struggles of communication between doctor and patient during the 15-minute office visit.

Pho sites a New York Times article that explains that more than two decades ago, research shows that patients were interrupted 18 seconds into explaining their problem (on average) and less than 2 percent got to finish their explanations.

Pho sites that he sometimes falls into the “interruption trap,” saying: “I think this is a natural progression to our managed care environment. Physicians are compensated by quantity of patients seen, and are kept to a strict schedule -– in most cases every 15-minutes.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

Transitioning Primary Care To “Patient-Centered” Team Care

While the “patient-centered medical home” may be a good idea, it needs a better name. It sounds like a hospice, reports surgeon and columnist Pauline Chen, M.D. She outlines the initial experiences of practices making the transition to the new practice model.

One problem uncovered by pilot projects is that doctors in transition to the practice model have to spend inordinate amounts of time of things other than patients. And while the patients want and welcome the changes, they face a learning curve too, as they move from seeing just the doctor to working with a team of providers for their care. 

Physicians suggested using resources from the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative, a collaborative group set up to help offices make the transition. (New York Times)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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