Health Leaders Media recently published an article about “the latest idea in healthcare: the informed shared medical decision.” While this “latest idea” is actually as old as the Hippocratic Oath, the notion that we need to create an extra layer of bureaucracy to enforce it is even more ridiculous. The author argues that physicians and surgeons are recommending too many procedures for their patients, without offering them full disclosure about their non-procedural options. This trend can be easily solved, she says, by blocking patient access to surgical consultants:
“The surgeon isn’t part of the process. Instead, patients would learn from experts—perhaps hired by the health system or the payers—whether they meet indications for the procedure or whether there are feasible alternatives.”
So surgeons familiar with the nuances of an individual’s case, and who perform the procedure themselves, are not to be consulted during the risk/benefit analysis phase of a “shared” decision. Instead, the “real experts” – people hired by insurance companies or the government – should provide information to the patient.
I understand that surgeons and interventionalists have potential financial incentives to perform procedures, but in my experience the fear of complications, poor outcomes, or patient harm is enough to prevent most doctors from performing unnecessary invasive therapies. Not to mention that many of us actually want to do the right thing, and have more than enough patients who clearly qualify for procedures than to try to pressure those who don’t need them into having them done.
And if you think that “experts hired by a health insurance company or government agency” will be more objective in their recommendations, then you’re seriously out of touch. Incentives to block and deny treatments for enhanced profit margins – or to curtail government spending – are stronger than a surgeons’ need to line her pockets. When you take the human element out of shared decision-making, then you lose accountability – people become numbers, and procedures are a cost center. Patients should have the right to look their provider in the eye and receive an explanation as to what their options are, and the risks and benefits of each choice.
I believe in a ground up, not a top down, approach to reducing unnecessary testing and treatment. Physicians and their professional organizations should be actively involved in promoting evidence-based practices that benefit patients and engage them in informed decision making. Such organizations already exist, and I’d like to see their role expand.
The last thing we need is another bureaucratic layer inserted in the physician-patient relationship. Let’s hold each other accountable for doing the right thing, and let the insurance company and government “experts” take on more meaningful jobs in clinical care giving.
Here’s the bad news: We will not benefit from the health care services, drugs, tests and procedures available to us unless we pay attention, learn about our choices, interact with our clinicians and follow through on the plans we make together. And that “following through”part? We have to work at doing that every day, whether we feel sick or well, energetic or tired out. And if we can’t do it, we’d best find a spouse or parent or friend or social service agency who can step in to do the things we can’t manage.
OK. For some people, this is not bad news. This is how we think it should be: “Nothing about me without me.” For others, our personal encounters with tests and treatments and illness have taught us that this is just the way it is.
But for many of us, this news – should we have reason to attend to it – is inconsistent with our idealized vision of health care that, tattered as its image might be, will step in, take over and fix what ails us. Most of us, after all, are mostly well most of the time and our exposure to health care is minimal.
Efforts to improve the effectiveness of health care and contain its cost have produced Read more »
One wonders how many men have their blood tested for PSA levels looking for prostate cancer without being asked if that’s what they really wanted.
The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (which supports my web publishing efforts) has now posted on its YouTube page a video clip with a man who has some regrets about his prostate cancer screening and treatment experience. It’s the same man featured in the New York Times Sunday magazine piece, “Can Cancer Ever Be Ignored?”
Relevant excerpt from the NYT piece:
“Tim Glynn, a self-described country lawyer from Setauket, N.Y., was 47 in 1997 when he went to his primary-care doctor, troubled by a vague feeling of being down. After his physical exam, Glynn was sent to have his blood drawn. Along with thyroid and cholesterol levels, the doctor ordered a P.S.A. test. Read more »
Irrational exuberance was a term once used to describe the stock market before the last crash. It also seems an apt description for much of the talk these days about empowered health consumers.
To be sure, patients today have unprecedented access to health information. Patient decision-support tool can be found on just about every provider, payer and self-insured employer website. Consumers can go to any number of websites to find quality data about hospitals, physicians and health plans. Personal health records (PHRs) promise to make our personal health data portable for meaning that all our treating physicians will be “singing off the same song sheet.”
That’s what the industry experts tell us. But what’s really going on? Here I will describe what I see as the top 5 myths about empowered health consumers. Read more »
Recently, I had a conversation with Shannon Brownlee (the widely respected science journalist and acting director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation) about whether men should continue to have access to the PSA test for prostate cancer screening, despite the overwhelming evidence that it extends few, if any, lives and harms many more men than it benefits. She felt that if patients could be provided with truly unbiased information and appropriate decision aids, they should still be able to choose to have the test (and have it covered by medical insurance). Believing that one of the most important roles of doctors is to prevent patients from making bad decisions, I disagreed.
After reading Your Medical Mind, the new book by Harvard oncologist and New Yorker columnist Jerome Groopman, I think he would probably side with Brownlee’s point of view. Groopman, whose authoring credits include the 2007 bestseller How Doctors Think, and wife Pamela Hartzband, MD have written a kind of sequel to that book that could have easily been titled How Patients Think. Drawing on interviews with dozens of patients about a wide variety of medical decisions – from starting a cholesterol-lowering drug, to having knee surgery, to accepting or refusing heroic end-of-life interventions – the authors Read more »
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