Both of these encounters stuck with me as an illustration of how the human psyche drags after us into the office where one complaint per appointment is the rule of the day. And this is where studies like the one discussed by Jane Brody in yesterday's edition of the New York Times have a certain, shall we say, "duh" factor. The patient wants to feel good, really? Is this really news to any clinician? And yes, different patients will have different utilities for what their diseases or treatments are doing for them. And yes, some people are more resilient than others. And yes, some people will rely in the doctor's expertise, while others are more willing to be empowered. But in the end, is it really necessary to spend dollars on studies that confirm all of these observations?
But here is what really got me, this one small paragraph in this 600-word or so essay:
Of course, everyone knows that a doctor’s time these days is limited. But for medical care to be delivered efficiently and economically, assessing health-related quality of life is an essential element that can help doctors identify therapy that is counterproductive or ineffective or needs to be modified.Note especially the leading sentence, "Of course, everyone knows that a doctor's time these days is limited". Let's stop here. As we sit and ponder it in silence, we just know that there is a big gigantic "but" that is about to hit us on the head. And sure enough, it does -- how predictable. But it is this sentence alone that should be printed in bold letters and stand alone, so that everyone -- researchers, patients, administrators, government bureaucrats and other pertinent parties -- stop and really think about the ever-growing crevasse between what is good for the patient, what is good for the doctor and what is good for the society and the reality of our widget-producing healthcare system.
To introduce the "but" is to deny the gravity of what is happening. The "but" diminishes any chances of a meaningful conversation about the real barriers to what we all know is good patient care. The "but" assumes a petulant contempt for the obvious on the part of the physician willfully avoiding the messiness of anything that is not lucrative. The "but" dilutes the important message: WE NEED MORE TIME!!! That is the message, not that we need to pit groups against each other with the "but"!
Now, the problem is huge and is likely to get worse. But... sitting on our hands and getting angry at the evil medical establishment for not taking the time to deal with our quality of life in the shrinking appointments will not change the system. People are people, and our psyche, no matter how hard we work at leaving it in the waiting room, will invariably follow us into the exam room. And all important emotional stuff comes out at the end, when the time has already run out, when the patient or the doctor is about to turn the door handle.
So, while the problem is clear, the solution is not. Nevertheless, the "but" is a way to evade having to find the real solutions. Let us keep the "but" out of the conversation and focus on what really needs to change.