Utilizing this blog I’ve spoken many times about troublesome trends that I find emerging throughout the  healthcare system today.  One such trend that I’ve referenced previously is the Low Touch- High Technology trend which has clearly emerged and mainstreamed over the last 5 to 7 years.

In my small area of the healthcare universe,  I practice amongst many large single specialty groups.  This brings to light yet another trend that I find more puzzling than disturbing:  Maximum Income and *Minimal* Satisfaction.

First, allow me to digress for a moment….

Ted Eytan put up a very interesting series of posts recently— his first was regarding the attitudes of practicing physicians (on Sermo) toward social media;  his second post dealt with the opinions of future physicians whom he had interviewed.   Ted was asked to post a question on Sermo to see if  physicians  see themselves utilizing *social media*  in the near future.  The threaded comments which followed — perhaps because of the anonymous nature of the posting —  were at times downright nasty.  Many of the physicians clearly displayed their  level of dissatisfaction with their current situation and the healthcare system as a whole.  They utilized this question (and many others on Sermo) as a springboard to launch into a tirade as to why they would never entertain engagement in social media or even other forms of electronic communication.

Much is written today about how physicians feel about the issues they face on a day to day basis within the medical-industrial complex.   The references to doctor dissatisfaction abound… literally everywhere.  Is it surprising that the NY Times reported  how new physicians are choosing specialties without call responsibility or after-hours responsibility and instead seeking “quality of life”.   Whether these younger physicians are feeding off of some of the emotional dissatisfaction they witness on rounds or in direct contact with their professors and educators —  I do not know.   Whether this is a perceived flight to safety or simply a desire to lessen their work burden is also a bit unclear.

Discussions about physician dissatisfaction occur at every water cooler, in every operating room lounge, and that every dinner many of us attend.  But I often wonder if any of my colleagues are actively pursuing workflow changes, office efficiencies, or changes to their daily habits which may improve their level of job satisfaction.  Interestingly, when I pose that question to my colleagues… the answer always seems to focus on finding another job… hmmm.

Back to the topic….

Many of the large multispecialty or single specialty groups I mentioned above incorporate the use of a physicians assistants as well as nurse practitioners to assist with their office throughput.  With regards to achieving top-line revenue improvements this is certainly a more efficient model then the model I have chosen to practice or utilize in my practice.  Now relax a moment… I am not knocking the entirety of the  MSG model… it clearly works — Kaiser, Mayo, etc having proven that…. I am referencing groups which use their size and personnel solely to achieve throughput and revenue gains.

I always ask myself what level of satisfaction  could  these physicians possibly gain when their interaction with the patient is very short, and frequently *incomplete*.  They are on a hamster wheel that is churning 70-80 patients through their office on a typical day — per  physician.    I imagine the interaction achieved by physician practicing alone and able to truly engage and personally educate that person in your office is far more satisfying.  In addition, from a surgical perspective, where does one  derive satisfaction from if  you do not in fact see the results of your surgical efforts?   My guess is that these surgeons’ *satisfaction* is derived through maximal revenue generation and not necessarily maximal patient satisfaction.

Last week in my office, I received 5  emails germane to this topic.  Three simply mentioned how satisfied they were with their encounter in the office in terms of the time they were given, the time I took to listen to their complaints, and the time I took to explain the natural history of their disease.  Two of the e-mails came from long-term patients who are many years out from surgery —  yet ventured onto my website and decided that they would touch base.  Clearly, the practice method I have chosen encourages this form of engagement.  Also seen in last week were at least six follow-up total knee replacement patients who were simply ecstatic about the results they had achieved.  When you sit in a room with a patient who put their trust in you, underwent a *big* surgical procedure, were assisted through a tough therapy program, and now emerge as a functional person pursuing all of their chosen activities of daily living because they are no longer in pain —That simply makes my day.

From a work perspective, there’s no greater level of satisfaction that I could ask for.

 

Yes… a career in medicine is difficult today — we are being pulled and squeezed by all four extremities by multiple intermediaries.  But didn’t most of us enter the field of  medicine to help people?  Unless you know that you have actually helped someone and interacted directly with the patient that you have helped I do not see how one derives any significant degree of satisfaction from your chosen profession as a physician???  Perhaps I am simply being naive?

Golfers know this concept well.  Most of us hack a ball around 7000 yards of beautiful green grass (and woods, lakes, marsh, etc).  Perhaps we hack three or four balls —  If we’re unable to find the ones that went awry.  So what brings us back once a month or once a week.  It is that one perfect shot that you hit on that one hole — A shot that you set up, executed, and exited perfectly.  That is one of the only shots you’re going to remember from the entire day and that is the shot that you’re going to remember when you’re driving back to the golf course the next time.

That helps define why I get up and do what I do every day.   I am looking to see that I have actually made a difference in someone’s life.  I don’t require verbal platitudes.  You can see it in most of your patients faces.  If you put your computer or your pencil down and simply watch your patient’s expressions you can often learn far more than a 20 min. discussion when your face is buried in your iPad.

Job satisfaction in healthcare today is difficult to come by.   Especially for physicians who are self-employed or in a small group.  Remember that idealistic person who applied to medical school and sat before the admissions committee?   I bet you all stated that you “want to help people”.  Now that you have had that opportunity —   how do you assess your level of satisfaction?