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Patients As Partners

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The famous late 19th and early 20th century physician, Sir William Osler, said that “a physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” How would he have felt about patients diagnosing and treating themselves? Would he have written in support of the Journal of Participatory Medicine or against it? I also wonder how he would have practiced medicine in the “information age” when many of our patients present with a diagnosis already made, right or wrong.

I recognize that bringing Dr. Osler into a discussion set in the information age is, perhaps, anachronistic. Yet I believe he still has something to teach the 21st century on the topic of patient participation. When he advised that “the first duty of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine,” he offered one of the earliest lessons on a physician’s role as educator.

He also said: “The great physician would treat the patient with the disease while the good physician would treat the disease.” For me, this marches lock-step with the reality of today’s patient as consumer and active participant in the doctor-patient relationship. Simply put, it is impossible to separate the patient from a pre-conceived and often well-researched opinion — correct or not. So to treat the “patient with the disease” requires me to think of my patient as an intellectual partner. Read more »

How I, A Doctor, Came To Build An EMR

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My desire for integrating the power of technology with primary care started nearly two decades ago. It was then, when working as a family physician in a busy medical practice, that I began experimenting with typing my notes and using computers in front of my patients.

In 2001, I launched a new medical practice DocTalker, focusing on access of medical care to patients, and almost immediately I started searching in earnest for an EMR solution to fit my needs. However, I was not happy with the systems I looked into and tested and felt that they didn’t do what I needed them to. 

Some of my discontent came from the way my medical practice consults with patients, which is primarily via telephones and emails and house calls (in addition to the common office visit). Because of our ability to offer telemedicine, we often treat patients when they’re not  in town, but rather traveling for business or taking a vacation. We therefore must interface with hundreds of different local labs, radiology groups, pharmacies, and specialists. Read more »

Doctors Wanted For Hazardous Journey

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“MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES,
BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,
CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND
RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.

With this want ad, circa 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton recruited 28 souls with an unimaginable challenge: To cross the unexplored Antarctica on dogsled. The polar explorer knew exactly what human characteristics he needed to pull off such a feat and understood that straight talk would resonate with a few select men.

Shakleton and his crew boarded their ship, the “Endurance,” and sailed the world’s most dangerous oceans straight into harms way — still considered one of the world’s greatest survival stories. Amazingly, all men survived against unimaginable odds. Their story reminds us that we all stand on the waves and wakes of dreamers, doers, slaves, and fools, all who say, “We did it, took our chances, immigrated to the U.S., headed West, built a new business, risked it all.”

And, if you listen closely, you will hear their stories as an invitation that has been repeated throughout history: “What will you do? Whether your turn or your calling, what will you do?”

Today, I’m posting a similar want ad to medical colleagues. The journey may be far less physically dangerous, but considering prevailing attitudes, perhaps it’s as daring in imagination. Read more »

Practicing Primary Care: A Lesson In Treading Water

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As a primary care physician, I am becoming painfully aware of how hard it is to be good –- I mean really good — at what we do today. I would prefer to believe that it has always been so, yet I do not believe that our predecessors in the medical profession found it nearly as difficult to excel in their time as we do now.

With all of the technological and medical advances, you might ask how I could believe this to be true. Too, you might consider it pessimistic or even crazy to suggest that physicians 20, 30, or 100 years ago found it easier to practice medicine well in their time.

You could counter with numerous or obvious examples such as antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, robotic surgical procedures, or even our wondrous ability to peer inside the human body without cutting it open. You also would be correct to point out that the technological advancements of the 20th century opened the way for the medical profession to become a real science thus giving me and my colleagues the chance and knowledge to make a real difference in our patients’ lives today. Read more »

Leaving The Organization But Not The Practice Of Medicine

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I confess ignorance. I know nothing about interviews with vampires. However, last week on my drive to a house call to see a sick patient, I experienced a sudden respect for author Anne Rice. I listened to a stranger completely off my radar screen being interviewed on NPR saying and making me feel the meaning of the phrase “Evil needs but one thing to grow. It is for good people to do nothing,” and reminding me that throughout history there have been numerous times where groups, organizations, and governments have acted even in ways that don’t represent our values or feel wrong minded or appear short sighted.

This statement was her simple explanation for a recent blog posting announcing she was resigning from Christianity. She remained a believer in God and in Christ, but no longer would listen to the Church tell her what to think, when and how to believe, or define truth while trying to control belief and the process. Read more »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

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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