Friday, April 19, 2019

Physicians Are Eagles Who Believe They Are Chickens by Niran Al-Agba, MD and Westby G. Fisher, MD

There are 800,000 physicians in America and more than 65% believe the Maintenance of Certification process, known as MOC, has no clinical value for patients.  For the first time in the history of our profession, physicians have a fighting chance to topple a Goliath-esque organization, the American Board of Medical Specialties. 

In a 2018 survey conducted by Merritt-Hawkins, 78 percent of physicians said they experience some symptoms of professional burnout. Physician burnout is a public health crisis which threatens the health and well-being of all patients. 

A burned-out physician reminds us of the fable about an eagle who believed he was a chicken.  When the eagle was small, he fell from his nest.  A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to his farm, and raised him in the chicken coop with his chickens. The eagle grew up living like a chicken, doing what chickens do, and believing he was, indeed, a chicken. 

One day, a visitor came to the farm and was surprised to see an eagle --considered the king of the sky-- strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting like a chicken. The farmer explained that this bird was no longer an eagle, instead he was a chicken because he was trained to be a chicken.
The man knew there was more to this great bird than “pretending” to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, “Thou art an eagle. Stretch thy wings and fly.” The eagle looked at the man and glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable.  He jumped down off the fence and did what chickens do.

The farmer shrugged and said, “I told you he is a chicken.”  The visitor returned the following day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that he was not a chicken. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and said: “Thou art an eagle. You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch your wings and fly.” The large bird looked at the man and then glanced down at the chicken coop. He jumped onto the roof of the farmhouse and returned to the place where he felt safest. 

The visitor asked the farmer to let him try one last time.

The next morning, the visitor returned and took the eagle and the farmer to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new place. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed into the sky where the bright sun beckoned and said: “Thou art an eagle! You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch your wings and fly.” This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his body, and stretched his powerful wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and confidently. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.

Because he was an eagle.
This past February 2019, four brave internal medicine physicians --recognizing they are eagles-- filed a lawsuit against the American Board of Internal Medicine for harm they endured from the Maintenance of Certification process.  Practicing Physicians of America has set up a fund to support our colleagues who are fighting this battle and need the support of fellow physicians. 

Merely 1300 physicians, out of 800,000 in the US, have contributed to the legal fight against the onerous MOC process, despite the fact that it is reviled by the majority of doctors.  Physicians members of the American Board of Radiology and the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation have filed lawsuits of their own regarding violation of anti-trust laws.

Why are so few of our fellow physicians standing up when given the chance?
Unfortunately, physicians often choose consistency over happiness. If you’re used to being abused, ignored, or exploited, it’s strangely comforting to remain in the chicken coop and peck at the ground. These physicians are just like the eagle who believed he was a chicken.
Maybe physicians prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.  Maybe physicians are terribly uncomfortable at the prospect of failure.  Maybe physicians believe it is better to control failure than be blindsided by it.  Physicians are standing on the mountain and being asked to spread their wings and fly.  What is stopping us?

The possibilities for the future of our profession are endless if we can win against the American Board of Internal Medicine.  If there were ever a time to join the fight, it is now.  Surely $100, $200 or even $500 is not too much to contribute to support our talented physician colleagues who have been harmed by the onerous MOC process.

Now we are asking every physician in America, are you a chicken or are you an eagle? 

Please donate to help physicians fight to spend more time providing care to patients and less supporting the American Board of Internal Medicine fiscal greed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The B & O Tax Increase Harms The Independent Physician

In 2014, 67% of physicians in Kitsap County were independent. Today, fewer than 20% of physician practices are owned and operated independently. That may not matter to you, but it should if you believe that competition leads to better care and lower prices. 
If you have never read my column before, please read this one. Because a proposal included in the governor's state budget could drastically change things for independent physicians, like my practice, and lead to the complete monopolization of healthcare in markets across the state. 
In his 2019 budget proposal Gov. Jay Inslee increases the business and occupation (B&O) tax by 20%, from 1.5% to 1.8%, on service-oriented industry sectors, such as professional, engineering and technical occupations. This specifically places independent physicians at a competitive disadvantage against physicians employed by hospitals, because non-profit hospitals are tax-exempt, and therefore unaffected by this tax increase.
Here’s why that matters to a community's health care: independent physician practices lower healthcare costs for all consumers. They are, quite simply, the last barrier to complete monopolization of a health care market. 
Hospital-based clinics — known as hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) — charge a “facility fee," or a bill in addition to the one levied for the doctors’ services. A hospital executive once told me to think of a facility fee like a “room rental” charge. Independent practices are forbidden from charging facility fees. For one 15-minute visit with your doctor, Medicare pays $124.40 if it takes place in a hospital-based outpatient department. Medicare reimburses only $68.97 for the exact same service delivered at an independent physician-owned clinic — an 80% difference!  
Over the past decade, this payment inequity forced physicians to close their doors and sell their practices to large hospital corporations. Prior to 2000, approximately 60% of physicians in the U.S. were “independent practice owners or partners” and by 2016 that number had fallen to less than one-third of physicians. Solo physicians – like myself — are predicted to become extinct, like the dinosaurs.
Locally the consolidation trend mirrored that of the nation, as I mentioned above, because most could not remain economically viable on their own. Currently, every neurologist, endocrinologist, cardiologist, pulmonologist, urologist, and vascular and orthopedic surgeon in Kitsap County is employed or contracted with CHI Franciscan.
The Wall Street Journal recently exposed a second reason hospital-employed physicians increase healthcare costs for consumers. The more primary-care doctors that work for hospitals, the more they are being pushed to keep lucrative specialty referrals in-house. In contrast, independent physicians are free to make referrals to those physicians they would choose for their own family members and themselves. 
Research shows that physician-owned practices provide better quality of care. For example, in comparison to organizations employing more than 100 physicians, practices with 3 to 9 physicians had 27% fewer preventable hospital admissions and those comprised of one or two physicians had 33% fewer preventable hospital admissions.  Fewer days spent in the hospital leads to fewer bills for consumers to pay.
There is no doubt that communities need hospitals — they provide essential emergency services 24 hours a day and a full spectrum of specialty care that would be unavailable otherwise. But certainly not at the expense of independently-owned and operated physician practices. 
It is understandable, due to the provision of charity care and other critical healthcare services, that nonprofit hospitals are tax-exempt. Private practices provide charity care too — albeit on a smaller scale than non-profit hospitals — yet are not afforded the same economic amnesty. At a bare minimum, those private practices treating Medicare and Medicaid patients should be allowed an exemption from this tax increase, if only to equalize the odds for their economic survival. 
A Democratic Presidential hopeful should not prioritize the needs of large corporations over small medical practices, which can deliver high quality care at a lower cost.  Otherwise, Gov. Inslee is showing the nation that he is no fan of providing affordable care to the masses. 
After making many phone calls to Olympia this past week, I have learned that Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend), chair of the Capital Budget Committee and a member of the Health and Wellness Committee, and Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle), chair of the Health and Wellness Committee, are the most important legislators with whom to voice your concerns. They can help create the exemption to lessen the pressure on independent doctors. 
If Washington legislators blindly vote to increase the B&O tax on the few independent medical practices struggling to survive, without realizing the detrimental impact of their decision, they are turning their backs on patients, independent physicians and our communities. Please call members of our state delegation as well, and let them know that you do not want independent practices, and the valuable services they provide, to disappear. 
Contact state legislators 
Rep. Tharinge: 360-786-7904, 
Rep. Cody: 360-786-7978, 
23rd District: Rep, Sherry Appleton, 360-786-7934,; Rep. Drew Hansen, 360-786-7842,; Sen. Christine Rolfes, 360-786-7644,
26th District: Rep. Michelle Caldier, 360-786-7802,; Rep. Jesse Young, 360-786-7964,; Sen. Emily Randall, 360-786-7650, 
35th District: Rep. Dan Griffey, 360-786-7966,; Rep. Drew MacEwen, 360-786-7902,; Sen. Tim Sheldon, 360-786-7668,

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Pitfalls of a "Medicare For All" Single-Payer System

The World Health Organization describes universal health coverage-- a system coupling health care access with financial protection for all residents-- as the “single most powerful concept that public health has to offer.” The goal of universal care is to give all people the equal opportunity to enjoy the best health possible. 
I wholeheartedly endorse universal health care, though not a single-payer system like “Medicare for All” because there is no provision for cost control in the legislation proposed by Representative Jayapal and others. 
Understanding the distinction between universal healthcare and a single-payer system is critical. 
There are two countries in this hemisphere with true single-payer healthcare systems:  Canada and Cuba. The pros and cons of the Canadian system are well known; Canada reigns in cost mostly through rationing. Cuba handles the cost conundrum by conscripting physicians and trading them to foreign countries for a price.  The export of medical personnel has surpassed tourism as the single largest source of income for the island country, generating nearly $11 billion annually for the Cuban government.  
In 1959, following the revolutionary promise to be more attentive to the disenfranchised, the Castro administration established healthcare access as a fundamental right of its citizens.   A true single-payer system was implemented, outlawing the private market, and the government assumed total fiscal and administrative responsibility for the provision of health care. Initially, Cuba made great strides:  life expectancy increased and infant mortality dropped; however, when more people live longer, the cost of maintaining health results in higher total expenditures. 
Ever since Cuba sent 56 of their physicians to Algeria for humanitarian purposes in 1963, physicians have been viewed as a commodity and a diplomatic tool.  Physicians in Cuba earn about $50 per month, so Cuban doctors are more than willing to sign contracts for foreign work.  Over time, exporting physicians became profitable and today, Cuba uses the revenue produced by their “army of white coats” to fund “free” healthcare for the nation.  
There are, of course, some drawbacks to international physician trafficking.  First, exporting doctors has left a domestic health system in tatters.  Wait times at clinics and hospitals have grown and resources and supplies are stretched exceedingly thin.  In rural areas, many physicians practice medicine in conditions without electricity or running water.  Second, a legalized system of physician trafficking is ripe for corruption.
In 2013, the Mais Medicos program – literally ‘More Doctors’ – was established by Dilma Rousseff, the former Brazilian President. Cuba and Brazil struck a deal to pay $4000 per doctor per month, netting $360 million annually for Cuba.  From that $4000, the Cuban government pays their physicians $400 monthly and withholds $600 in a “frozen” account which physicians may access only upon return to Cuba.  
The Cuban government keeps a tight leash on their doctors.  Cuba forbids physicians from bringing their families with them internationally, enforces a daily 6pm curfew for them, and requires they report to Cuban intelligence officers stationed in Brazil in order to keep watch over Cuba’s most valuable asset. 
In 2017, Cuba tightened restrictions further by compelling pregnant doctors to return to Cuba after 22 weeks gestation to preclude their offspring from gaining Brazilian citizenship after birth.  It was at this point Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President-elect, denounced Mais Medicos, calling it “modern day slavery.”
Of course, the Cuban-Brazil quagmire would not be possible without assistance from the Washington DC -based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a specialized health agency affiliated with the World Health Organization and the United Nations, that strives to “improve and protect the health of people.”  PAHO generates income from “annual contributions from member governments.”
Brazil pays $1.5 billion to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) annually for administering the Mais Medicos program plus operating expenses in addition.  PAHO paid $1.3 billion to Cuba, keeping $75 million (5% cut) for itself.  In November 2018, a group of courageous Cuban physicians filed a lawsuit against PAHO, alleging the organization “knowingly provided, obtained, and benefitted from the forced labor and trafficking of more than 10,000 Cuban Doctors in Brazil between 2013 and the present.”  
It is conceivable that a bonified UN agency may be running a legal for-profit slave trade.
Think this could not happen in the United States, the land of the free and home of the brave?  Think again.  Do you remember, “If you like your doctor, you can keep them?”  It was the battle cry of the Affordable Care Act.  It was not true.  Medicare for All holds the same empty promise. Except this time the system will be financed by taxpayers writing a blank check. 
In a socialist construct, one central power controls the means of production and the goods produced, goods which may someday include U.S. physicians.  The Cuban government generates $11 billion annually by “leasing” their physicians out to foreign countries, in order to fund the Cuban national health system, which is “free.”
Most politicians disagree there is a physician shortage, calling it instead, a problem of “physician distribution.” If the U.S. government is in control, physicians will no longer be free to “distribute” themselves.  If the government decides New England is oversaturated, physicians will be “incentivized” (by termination from employment) to practice in Wyoming, Idaho, or Nevada, states desperately short of physicians. 
Thomas Jefferson said it best, “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

In Defense of Pediatricians... (And a Few Words of Advice For Doctors and Other Public Health Types)

Allow me to share a few select comments from Twitter with you.

“You people are awful.”

“This is just sick,” wrote another.

“All this to enrich yourselves. DISGUSTING!!”

“You endanger KIDS LIVES for a $400,000 a year salary and a Lexus???”

Wow. What’s going on? What are these people talking about?

They’re taking me and my fellow pediatricians to task because of the perceived role pediatricians play in perpetuating the conspiracy that pediatricians, public health officials and greedy pharmaceutical companies encourage vaccinations in order to make money and are therefore willing to endanger the lives of children everywhere.

The anger toward pediatricians is real. How did things end up this way?

How did a medical specialty most people associate with sniffles and sore throats, reach the point where labels are thrown at us that are more commonly used to describe axe murderers and third world dictators?

Allow me to defend myself and my fellow pediatricians, most of whom are relatively reluctant to engage belligerent people on social media.

I do not have that problem.

In a way, I understand the anger. It makes sense to me.  I deal with parents every single day. These people are worried about the safety of their children. They’ve run across a very disturbing story on the internet and are worried by what they’re reading.
But these people do all seem to have one thing in common.

They seem to be operating with a mental image of doctors that got lodged in their brains about twenty- five years ago.  Or might they have acquired it by binge watching too many medical dramas on Netflix? (I prefer to blame Hollywood scriptwriters, whose portrayal of the glamorous lives doctors lead is equally detached from reality, however I will save that for another time.)

As for the idea that I’m living a life of luxury? I’ve heard this one enough times that the time has come to address it.

The financial windfall I am supposedly reaping by vaccinating the kiddos in my care? Let me break it down for you. For the last 15 years, I have been paid $6 per immunization by the various insurers. With the ushering in of “value-based care,” the reimbursement rate is up to a whopping $17-22 as of this year. This is the princely sum for which I am supposedly willing to sell out my principals and commit the crime of keeping a child healthy.

Let me point out one little detail many people may not be aware of. The vaccinations that people are getting so worked up about? Fifty years ago they were administered by physicians or nurses only. In recent years, thanks to structural and legislative changes in the healthcare system,  the vast majority of immunizations are being administered by medical assistants, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers, many of whom have completed a single 20-hour training course. Could playing it ‘fast and loose’ with vaccinations have something to do with some of the uptick in complication rates?
Perhaps we should consult a statistician?

Here’s a study I’d like to see.  I’d like to see research that looks at the complication rates for vaccinations given by nonphysicians and compare them to the complication rates back in the days when pediatricians and nurses gave the immunizations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers tell a very interesting story.

Just ask Lou Ferrigno –otherwise known as “The Incredible Hulk”– about how he ended up in the hospital after receiving an immunization for pneumonia at his local pharmacy. His tweet said it all, “Went in for a pneumonia shot and landed up here [in the hospital] with fluid in my bicep.” He tells his followers that “it’s important you keep an eye on who’s giving the shot and make sure they not only swab the spot correctly but that you watch the needle come out of the package.”

The problem is that while pharmacists, medical assistants and health center employees are considered adequately qualified to roll up somebody’s shirt sleeve and jab a needle into their arm after a 20 hour crash course, they have little or no training to evaluate the health status of their patients. Many have never seen the patient before the day they walk through the door.
Which brings us back to those terrible stories on the Internet. 

It’s natural for parents to be upset. Especially when they raise their hands to ask questions and get shouted down by an angry mob. That’s because the stories they’re hearing sound plausible.  The vast majority of people who are being converted to the anti-vaxx camp are intelligent, rational people. Most are highly educated, and they are good parents. They are aware enough to search for scientific evidence to answer their questions after being dismissed by the CDC.

If you’re like me, you may have noticed that the conspiracy theories that are floating around keep gaining strength. These ideas incense public health officials and scientists, but it turns out that on social media, the more we try to suppress ideas we dislike, the more they spread.  At this point it’s become obvious that things aren’t getting better. They’re getting worse. Pretty soon, the entire system is going to break down.

And one day soon there may be a real epidemic. Not a flare up. Not a scare. A real epidemic that kills thousands of people and brings life as we know it in this country to a halt.
And I’ll tell you one thing. If it happens, it’s going to be our fault.
Yes, you read that correctly.

If you want to blame somebody for the vaccine crisis, blame the pediatricians. Why?
Because we know better. We let government bureaucrats and health insurance bean counters push us around, even though this puts the health and welfare of children at risk. We let others who are far less qualified than we are take the lead and take up the challenge of explaining the vaccine story to the world.

How did we let that happen? I’ll tell you what happened. We gave up.

We got sick and tired of beating our heads against a wall. Tired of explaining to public health officials that it’s a bad idea to tell people that vaccines just work. Period.  Tired of fighting with insurers and employers, who don’t see the value of paying twenty dollars more for a physician to administer immunizations directly. Tired of arguing with our government, which believes vaccinations are so ‘harmless’ that in 1993, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala (currently serving in the US Congress) asked the American Pharmacists Association (APha) to help define the role of pharmacists in the national vaccine program for children.  They jumped at the opportunity when millions in revenue was at stake.
We’ve known since the beginning that vaccines have risk. All medicines have risks. They have trade offs and rewards. In an age when scientific information is widely available on the Internet, it makes absolutely no sense for public health officials and scientists to dodge the hard questions by telling people that “vaccines work”.

In a world where opinion is shaped through social media, a public health strategy based on trying to “educate people” by shoving “facts” in their face when the facts are in dispute is not going to work very well.  In reality, it may backfire and produce exactly the opposite result from the one you intended. And that is exactly what is happening here.

The people who are revolting and opting out of the vaccination system? They’re not going anywhere. They’re not going to be shamed into submission. They’re not going to sit back down and shut up. You can try to “educate them.” They’ll go out and get different books.  You can bar their kids from schools. They’ll build new schools.

It’s pretty clear that it’s time for a new approach.  We need to have a national conversation about the risks and benefits of vaccination. We need to respect the power of immunizations and their side effects.  And it’s time to take vaccinations out of the hands of people who know nothing about the risks involved and give them back to the physicians.

And lastly, it’s time for somebody to have a long hard talk with Big Pharma about the role they are playing here.  What data do they have? To quote one of Hollywood’s favorite conspiracy movies: What do they know and when did they first know it?

Many of the questions that are being raised by the people who are challenging the current system are fair.  Parents deserve answers to their questions and full disclosure. Then and only then, will the controversy subside and allow pediatricians to go back to the peace and quiet of their glamorous lives treating runny noses and all that other stuff.

In reality, physicians are the only group of healthcare professionals with the ability to turn the anti-immunization debacle on its head.  Pediatricians, especially, must reclaim the responsibility for talking openly and honestly with our patients about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of immunizations. After all, look at where relying on the CDC, WHO or even the US Government has gotten us?

Oh and one last thing? For the record.
$400,000 is a pipe dream and my Lexus is a minivan made by someone else.

Niran Al-Agba, MD is a pediatrician based in Washington State. She is an associate editor for The Deductible. Follow her on Twitter at @silverdalepeds

Thursday, March 21, 2019

When Doctors Need Our Help: Do No Harm, A Film

In the United States, 400 physicians commit suicide annually – an average of one per day.  Physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any profession; almost double that of the general population.  While physician suicide has reached epidemic proportions, the general public is relatively unaware of this tragic phenomenon.  Robyn Simon has produced a documentary film, Do No Harm, to shed light on this taboo topic.  Common Spirit Health/Dignity Health/CHI/Fransciscan Hospital (formerly known as Harrison Memorial) is sponsoring a free screening of this movie in Kitsap County, scheduled for Friday March 22, 2019 at 6:00pm in the Bremerton High School Auditorium.  
“Do No Harm” chronicles the journey of two families – the Dietls and Mechams – which share common insurmountable challenges during medical training.  John and Michele Dietl lost their son Kevin to suicide 3 months before his graduation from medical school.  Feeling hopeless during his fourth year of residency, Hawkins Mecham, DO, tried to take his own life. 
Dr Mecham reached out to Dr. Pamela Wible, a friend and colleague who has focused her efforts on preventing physician suicide.  Dr. Wible connected Mecham with the Dietls.  John and Michelle were able to ask Mecham the questions that they could not ask their son and by sharing their story with Hawkins, he had more insight into those who are left behind after suicide. 
I was twelve years old when the first physician I knew in Kitsap County committed suicide. He was a colleague of my father’s in a local multispecialty physician group.  As a young girl, I went on occasional playdates with his children and attended birthday parties in their home. My father always described him as intelligent and kind.  At that age, I could not fathom the wear and tear this career has on the souls of all physicians.  
Physicians who die by suicide are struggling healers; they are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, colleagues, neighbors and friends.  As a community, we must embrace those who are struggling and erase the stigma associated with depression, anxiety and suicidality. Physicians are reticent to share their personal and professional struggles with others out of fear from being labeled as being weak.  This silence helps no one.
Like my esteemed colleagues, I have often felt overwhelmed by this challenging career, more so after the loss of my father and business partner eighteen months ago.  The heartfelt and valuable advice shared nearly twenty-five years ago by a local gastroenterologist – Dr. Pankaj Sharma – has helped me cope through it all. 
During my junior year in college, Dr. Sharma evaluated me for nonspecific abdominal pain with an upper endoscopy, a procedure where a thin scope with a light and camera at the tip is used to look inside the upper digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine, known as the duodenum.  His evaluation yielded little in the way of a definitive medical condition. 
At my follow up appointment, a stack of Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) study books accompanied me, because I did not want to lose a moment preparing for this exam.  Dr. Sharma quickly realized my problem was more stress-related and shared some guidance: “The challenges you will face as a physician will be overwhelming.  You must find a way now to accept the crushing demands medicine places upon us. If you cannot, you will never survive a career as a doctor.” 
At nineteen, I did not fully grasp the significance of his words but after nearly two decades in this field, I know all-too-well how right Dr. Sharma was. Medicine is a science grounded in uncertainty; it is the weight of facing this ambiguity every day that exacts such a heavy toll.  When physicians cannot cope with such doubt, it can manifest as depression, anxiety, alcoholism, or even, suicide. 
The “Dr. Sharma talk” still resonates today.  Despite giving patients our best, sometimes the negative outcomes are beyond our control. Physicians must be careful not to lose themselves while helping others. Failure is a part of medicine because it is an inevitable part of life. Grieving, when necessary, is important; every physician is, first and foremost, a human being. 
Our nations healers --nurses, doctors and all of those working in healthcare -- are suffering, they need our support, appreciation, gratitude, and forgiveness.  Please know that when tucking our own children in at night, we are often thinking – and even dreaming – of yours.  Please join the community for a screening of this courageous film:  Do No Harm. Thank you to Common Spirit Health Hospital for bringing this film and filmmaker Robyn Simon to Kitsap County.
And I wish to thank Dr. Pankaj Sharma personally, for being the voice in my head whenever I struggle with the demands of a medical career.  I have followed your advice by exercising every day, enjoying close relationships with my patients, and writing openly about my frustrations working in a healthcare system that no longer makes sense.  Please know your work has made a world of difference.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Death of Specialization: Predictions by George Orwell

“If you control the language, you control the argument
  If you control the argument, you control information,
  If you control information, you control history,
  If you control history, you control the past.
  He who controls the past controls the future.”  - Big Brother, 1984. (George Orwell)

A physician should be called a “physician.” A nurse practitioner should be identified as “nurse practitioner.”  Please call a physician assistant, “physician assistant.” These are accurate titles, reflective of their specialized education, training, and expertise. They are all venerated professions which share a mutual goal of improving patient’s lives, yet the vocations are fundamentally different.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” -George Orwell

A central message of 1984 is that language shapes thought by structuring ideals and limiting ideas. Imprecise syntax spreads by imitation and tradition, even among those people – like physicians--who should know better. Some young physicians do not realize that the word “provider” undermines their profession by devaluing their specialized education and training.

My request:  Stop calling physicians “providers.”  It is insulting, personally and professionally.

Language is a powerful tool.  It doesn’t just allow us to communicate; it is a way to change culture and control people. History has shown us that every oppressive regime to come into power, did so by shifting language and influencing thoughts in order to alter perception and then, form a new reality.  There is already a word for this weaponization of language --propaganda.
Behind today’s push to change the language of medicine, is the colossal “medical-industrial complex” –part government and part corporate medical machine -- which stands to benefit fiscally by denying physicians their special expertise.  Disparaging physicians allows healthcare policymakers to surreptitiously advance the idea that a nationalized health system, administered and controlled by the government, is the fix-all solution to what ails the health of our people.  But first and foremost, physicians must be conscripted, and that is precisely what is happening.

While mass generalization is expedient, convenient semantics is part of a larger societal trend best described as “the death of specialization.”  In reality, this deceptive linguistic creep obscures a 19,000-hour training difference that exists between a physician and nonphysician, a fact that should be of great material consequence to patients.  The control of healthcare is being relinquished through this ambiguous propaganda as a first step, which will be followed by changed in medical culture that corrupt the entire healthcare system.

“War is peace, Freedom is slavery, and Ignorance is strength.”  - George Orwell

Today, in healthcare, absolutely anyone can be anything.  Any patient can self-diagnose and treat their condition using the internet, Jenny McCarthy can be an expert on immunizations for children, and Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are considered doctor “replacements.”  While nonphysicians with graduate degrees --nurse practitioners, physician assistants and psychologists-- are fighting for the title of “doctor,” physicians who have earned the designation through more than a decade of education are being shamed into avoiding its use.  Any physician daring to highlight their credentials is labelled as “egocentric”, “elitist” or “self-important.”  The perversity of this is utterly astounding.

Though seemingly innocuous, “provider” has facilitated substitution of lower paid personnel in place of physicians under the premise of lowering costs, despite the fact there is not a single shred of evidence to scientifically support this claim.  The mainstream, believing anyone can practice medicine, have turned a blind eye to the plight of physicians struggling against the odds to care for patients.
“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” -George Orwell

By insisting physicians accept the derogatory term “provider”, we are being forced to comply with the systematic demise of our profession, for the sake of political correctness. Countless physicians have shared their repugnance of this derogatory term, yet remain silent due to fear of losing employment, or worse, facing character assassination. I write in support of marginalized physicians unable to speak for themselves. 

We must be more cognizant of our word choices.  If we relinquish control of our language, we will lose our humanity.  The term “provider” applies to almost any type of clinician.  This willful ignorance toward understanding differences in training, education, and expertise constitutes an increasing danger to not only our profession, but also to patients, our healthcare system and society as a whole.  Patients deserve to know who is rendering their care. 
We are physicians, not providers.  It is insulting and I am asking for it to stop. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

If You Call Me a "Provider", I Will Assume You are a Nazi.

As a physician, I am proud of the degree I earned. Upon graduation from medical school, my diploma conferred the title of physician and medical doctor, it did not say “provider.” The word “doctor” originates from the Latin “docere”, meaning to teach. I value highly my role as a teacher to patients, students, residents and colleagues. Physicians should accept nothing less than the title we worked hard to obtain through a great deal of personal and professional sacrifice.  It was a small price to pay to join that sacred society of men and women who have devoted their lives to healing.

The source of any argument can often be found by looking at the language used to frame it. The use of the term “provider” devalues physicians and is a professional insult, no different from that of discrimination based on my race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. 

“Provider” was first utilized by The Third Reich, who embraced this moniker to degrade Jewish physicians as medical professionals.  The historic root and use of the word “provider” deserves our attention and reflection because if we forget the tragic mistakes of history, we may be doomed to repeat them. While the more recent movement to disrespect the education and training of physicians was the brainchild of the federal government and corporatized medicine, this disdain for medical expertise has occurred before–to Jewish physicians living in Germany in 1937, before World War II. 

As a matter of Nazi law, in Germany, a person was identified as being “Jewish” if they had three Jewish grandparents.  In 1933, 15% of all physicians in Germany were identified as being Jewish. Many were pediatricians, in fact, out of 1253 pediatricians practicing within the borders of the German Reich, 47% were of Jewish descent. 

Among those pediatricians were many influential scientists who left a lasting impact on the pediatric field.  Eduard Heinrich Henoch –famous for identifying a condition called Henoch-Schonlein Purpura – which can be serious and even life-threatening for children.  Abraham Jacobi was a pioneer in pediatrics, opening the very first clinic to exclusively treat children in the United States. 

In 1933, the German Society of Pediatrics asked pediatricians who were Jewish to voluntarily resign or be removed from the membership roster. Surprisingly, an organization that should have been committed to the preservation of all humanity, wholeheartedly embraced Nazi policy, holding their first Aryan National Pediatric meeting in 1934.

According to Dr. Saenger, who wrote Jewish Pediatricians in Nazi Germany:  Victims of Persecution, “the 1937 issue of the Reichs Medizinal Kalender, a directory of doctors, the remaining Jewish doctors in Germany were stigmatized by a colon placed before their names. Their medical licenses were revoked in 1938.  They could no longer call themselves “Arzt” or “doctor.”  They were degraded to the term “Behandler” or freely translated, “provider.”  The Jewish doctors had lost their government approbation.  They could no longer hang out their shingle and even their prescription pads had to reflect the new law restricting their patients to other Jews.” 

These acts, perpetrated by the Nazi regime, were intended for the purposes of systematic humiliation and denigration of those who had earned the title of doctor through education and training. Following these regulatory measures, a mass exodus of 750 pediatricians from Germany, Austria and Prague ensued.  In all, about 50 pediatricians were deported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe, seven of whom survived by the war end.  Those pediatricians who were deported took responsibility for the care of the children who were with them and a few brave pediatricians accompanied the children into the gas chambers. 

Insulting any person on the basis of their race, ethnicity or gender is morally wrong. Using the word “provider” to describe a physician is and will always be insulting, personally and professionally; it is demeaning and devalues the education and degree conferred upon every physician. Why are physicians forced to suffer repeated use of this derogatory professional insult? And why have physicians as one professional body not risen up in anger at this injustice?

Because physicians are a conduit for insurance companies, hospitals, and even the government, to maintain the flow of money from patients in the healthcare marketplace.  The word “provider” also encourages us to consider health care as a commodity and the physician-patient encounter as more business transaction than relationship, which must be grounded in trust and mutual respect. Physicians must not surrender professionalism to commercialism.

One only has to look at the emergence of electronic health record mandates, which facilitate billing for third-parties, and prior-authorizations, which restrict the clinical decision making by physicians to understand how fundamentally irrelevant our profession has become.  Federal law has made it illegal to provide pro-bono care to Medicaid or Medicare patients. These and other “innovations” have insidiously dismantled health care delivery.  I do not know when physicians accepted being called “providers,” but I do know that we must stop tolerating it. That time is now.