An Open Letter to the new HHS Secretary Dr Tom Price

Dear Dr Price,

Congratulations on your upcoming appointment as the new Health and Human Services Secretary under our soon-to-be President Trump. As a physician myself, it’s great to know that a fellow physician will head up the agency. I’m sure you understand too, having been a practicing orthopedic surgeon, how disheartening and frustrating it is to have non-clinical “experts” making key decisions about healthcare.

I’m sure you’ve also seen the news about how your nomination has divided the physician community. Nevertheless, you do have the full support of many of our nation’s top physician organizations, including the AMA.

I am all for physicians taking leadership positions in healthcare, industry, and yes, politics. Your resume is hugely impressive. I’m aware of many of your viewpoints, and in the interests of being completely honest, am not in agreement with all of them—as I’m sure is the case for a large percentage of the over 800,000 physicians in the United States. Particularly if you ever propose changes that risk any of our long suffering patients losing access or having the end result of making healthcare more unaffordable for them. Having said that, I am glad with your consistent wish to put the “doctor-patient relationship” first. Nobody needs to tell you what has gone on over the last decade and how the practice of medicine has changed for the worse. We need to consider the following 5 points to make American Healthcare Great Again:

1. The cost of our healthcare system is simply unsustainable, as we’ve known for a very long time. Both total cost as a share of GDP and individual cost to the patient. Everything we do has to keep this in mind. Patients can’t keep seeing their expenses rise and access limited. That applies to all our citizens.

2. The frontline of medicine has been decimated by excessively onerous regulations. While we certainly need to maintain high standards and raise quality, there are better ways to do it than lumber our physicians (and nurses) with ever more “tick boxes” and layers of expensive administration. Ask some of your physician colleagues, Dr Price, how much time they are now spending staring at a screen instead of being with their patients?  Meaningful Use, whatever its intentions, has caused something of a catastrophe because of suboptimal IT systems that we are now forced to use and spend the majority of our day navigating.

3. Let’s keep our independent physicians. The last decade, due to central policy, has heavily favored large healthcare corporations over independent physicians. These fine doctors, who have traditionally been the backbone of our healthcare system (such as the good old-school country doctors) now find it impossible to practice independently. Did we need to alienate them so much?

4. Let’s foster a healthcare system that favors doctors (or nurses, or indeed any other healthcare professionals) in positions of leadership. The move towards corporate medicine and consolidation, has done quite the opposite. The number of non-clinical administrators is exploding, while the number of practicing physicians appears to be drastically shrinking! At the same time as encouraging those physicians who want to lead (such as yourself), let us also address issues that will help put more doctors on the frontline, including practice environment and spiraling medical student debt.

5. As you’ve already said time and again, we must always remember that it’s all about the patient and their doctor. This paradigm is central to all healthcare systems. True patient-centered care. When we promote a system that understands this, we will be able do many more things—including strengthening our primary care sector and focusing on prevention rather than cure—all while offering patients the freedom and choice that they need with the fewest barriers between them and their doctor.

As much as we need to improve, let’s also not forget all of the great things about American healthcare. We have the most amazing doctors and nurses, and lead the world in innovation and research. We can maintain our high standards, while still giving our patients the best possible deal at much lower costs. We can also make our system a great one to work in for our hard-working doctors. This healthcare ship can still be reversed—especially by the collective efforts of those physicians who all started off with the same call to service and altruistic intentions that you probably did too.

 

Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.

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