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Are Primary Care Physicians Being Assimilated By The Borg?

If you live in a small town or rural area of the United States, you may have noticed that family doctors are becoming an endangered species. Private and public health insurance reimbursement rates are so low that survival as a solo practitioner (without the economies of scale of a large group practice or hospital system) is next to impossible. Some primary care physicians are staying afloat by refusing to accept insurance – this allows them the freedom to practice medicine that is in the patient’s best interest, rather than tied to reimbursement requirements.

I joined such a practice a few years ago. We make house calls, answer our own phones, solve at least a third of our patients’ problems via phone (we don’t have to make our patients come into the office so that we can bill their insurer for the work we do), and have low overhead because we don’t need to hire a coding and billing team to get our invoices paid. Our patients love the convenience of same day office visits, electronic prescription refills, and us coming to their house or place of business as needed.

Using health insurance to pay for primary care is like buying car insurance for your windshield wipers. The bureaucracy involved raises costs to a ridiculously unreasonable level. I wish that more Americans would decide to pay cash for primary care and buy a high deductible health plan to cover catastrophic events. But until they do, economic pressures will force primary care physicians into hospital systems and large group practices. My friend and fellow blogger Dr. Doug Farrago likens this process to being “assimilated by the Borg.”

Doug offered a challenge to his readers – to customize the definition of Star Trek’s Borg species to today’s healthcare players. I gave it my best shot. Do you have a better version?

Who are the Borg:

The Borg are a collection of alien species that have turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the collective or the hive. A pseudo-race, dwelling in the Star Trek universe, the Borg take other species by force into the collective and connect them to “the hive mind”; the act is called assimilation and entails violence, abductions, and injections of cybernetic implants. The Borg’s ultimate goal is “achieving perfection”.

My attempt to customize the definition:

Hospitalists are a collection of primary care physicians that have turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the collective or hive. Hive collective administrators (HCAs), in association with partnered alien species drawn from the insurance industry and government, take other primary care physicians by economic force and connect them to “the hive mind”; the act is called assimilation and entails crippling reimbursement cuts, massive increases in documentation requirements, oppressive professional liability insurance rates, punitive bureaucratic legislation, and threat of imprisonment for failure to adhere to laws that HCA- partnered species interpret however they wish. The HCAs’ ultimate goal is “achieving perfect dependency” first for the drones, then for their patients, so that HCAs and their alien partners will become all powerful – dictating how neighboring species live, breathe, and conduct their affairs. Resistance is futile.


To learn more about my insurance-free medical practice, please click here. We can unplug you from the Borg ship!

Are Physicians Going Soft On The Issue Of Medical Malpractice Reform?

With regard to physicians’ support for medical malpractice reform, the times they are a changin’. These iconic words of Bob Dylan, who has now reached the 8th decade of life, apply to the medical liability crisis that traditionally has been a unifying issue for physicians.

The New York Times reported that physicians in Maine are going soft on this issue, but I suspect this conversion is not limited to the Pine Tree State. Heretofore, it was assumed that physicians as a group loathed the medical malpractice system and demanded tort reform. The system, we argued, was unfair, arbitrary, and expensive. It missed most cases of true medical negligence. It lit the fuse that exploded the practice of defensive medicine. Rising premiums drove good doctors out of town or out of practice.

What happened? The medical malpractice system is as unfair as ever. Tort reform proposals are still regarded as experimental by the reigning Democrats in congress and in the White House. The reason that this issue has slipped in priority for physicians is because Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Family Physician Makes The Switch Back To The White Coat

I have not worn a white coat since I opened my own practice more than twenty years ago.

Not that I had anything against white coats in principle. I wore my short white one in med school with pride, and the longer one in residency too; their pockets filled to bursting with the 4 x 6 inch six-ring binder emblazoned with my name in gold, courtesy of Burroughs-Wellcome, the long-defunct pharma giant, which had presented one to each medical student in the US for many years, as well as assorted pens, note cards, alcohol wipes, hemoccult cards, and so forth. I even had a tiny teddy bear pinned to my lapel, my own way of personalizing the impersonal.

When I went out on my own, though, I made the conscious decision not to wear one. I confess that all these years later, I don’t completely recall my thought processes on the subject. It seemed Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Solo Practice Vs. Integrated Health Systems: What’s Best For Primary Care Reform?

The buzzwords of cutting-edge primary care reform – the medical home, coordination of care, electronic health records – have usually been associated with large integrated health systems such as Intermountain Healthcare, Group Health, and Kaiser Permanente. If you believe the arguments that economies of scale and financial resources give such organizations built-in advantages over the traditional small group practice, you may be inclined to believe that solo practice is going the way of the dodo. Indeed, immediate past AAFP President Roland Goertz, MD, MBA penned an editorial a few months ago, “Helping Small Practices Survive Health System Change,” that, while touting some services that the Academy offers family physicians in these practices, betrayed a decidedly pessimistic outlook on their long-term future.

Not everyone agrees, however. In the September issue of the Journal of Family Practice, Jeff Susman, MD cast solo practices as vital engines of primary care innovation: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

The Family Physician May Become Extinct – Is That A Bad Thing?

The New York Times recently published an article titled the Family Can’t Give Away Solo Practice wistfully noting that doctors like Dr. Ronald Sroka and “doctors like him are increasingly being replaced by teams of rotating doctors and nurses who do not know their patients nearly as well. A centuries-old intimacy between doctor and patient is being lost, and patients who visit the doctor are often kept guessing about who will appear in the white coat…larger practices tend to be less intimate”

As a practicing family doctor of Gen X, I applaud Dr. Sroka for his many years of dedication and service.  How he can keep 4000 patients completely clear and straight in a paper-based medical system is frankly amazing.  Of course, there was a price.  His life was focused solely around medicine which was the norm of his generation.  Just because the current cohort of doctors wish to define themselves as more than their medical degree does not mean the care they provide is necessarily less personal or intimate or that the larger practices they join need to be as well. Read more »

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

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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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