Patient Care, Primary Care

Who Owns the Doctor-Patient Relationship?

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By Jim Sams, MD
CEO of Privia Medical Group – Georgia

According to an ancient Greek myth, Heracles — known more commonly by his Roman name, Hercules — encounters the giant Antaeus, son of Gaea, who is Mother Earth. Antaeus challenges Heracles to a wrestling match; the giant is invincible as long as he is in contact with Mother Earth. Heracles, realizing his opponent’s advantage, defeats Antaeus by holding him aloft, preventing the giant’s body from touching the ground. In a final blow, Heracles crushes Antaeus to death and wins the fight.

The connections that physicians are uniquely positioned to develop with patients help us diagnose, treat, and heal them in ways no other institution can, and strengthen us professionally. Not being permitted to connect with our patients saps our strength. In my analogy, doctors are Antaeus; patients are our Mother Earth, and everything that gets between us and our patients represent Hercules.The disconnect between physicians and patients will eventually crush us and lead to the demise of our profession.

Nearly 60 percent of U.S. physicians have or are currently experiencing burnout. One of the reasons for this trend?  We’re disconnected from our power — the patients we went to medical school and endured thousands of hours of training to learn how to treat. The medical industrial complex has evolved in a way to disconnect us from our patients. Regulatory and administrative burdens, along with the fee-for-service system, distance us from the intrinsic rewards we find in servicing others. Absent these intrinsic rewards, we often seek satisfaction in economic terms. This is truly a race to the bottom.

While many participants in the current healthcare system commoditize patients and doctors in the pursuit of profit, the tides are changing. Privia Health recognizes that physicians should be rewarded for the value they produce in the healthcare system. As a physician-led medical group, Privia works by aligning independent primary care physicians and their patients with payers and hospitals in arrangements to manage populations with a focus on service, outcomes, total cost of care, and physician satisfaction with patients and their doctors. The quadruple aim is achievable.

The doctor- patient relationship is under attack as many parties want to own it in order to protect the status quo. If we fail to assert our role in the delivery system, Medicine will lose its standing as a profession and become another commodity in the medical-industrial complex. On the other hand, if we come together in ways that strengthen our ownership of the doctor – patient relationship, we can achieve the next Golden Age of Medicine. But it cannot happen without physicians at the helm.

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