The Benefits Of Being An “Old School” Doctor

old school doctorSince I have been in practice, medicine has changed drastically over the years. Technology and improved practice standards have given way to great changes in the care of patients. When I first started in medicine, there were no electronic charts, most notes were handwritten, and computers were not a standard part of practice. CT scans were relatively new and the MRI scan was not yet invented. Medical students were trained to do a comprehensive history and then a physical exam. Part of the history had to include a detailed account of how the condition the patient has had developed over time. Another part was a detailed exam, including looking at the patient, often with minimal clothes obscuring the body. These are very simple things – listening to a story and looking at the patient.

Unfortunately, many doctors have lost the skill to be able to evaluate a patient. Oftentimes the patient has a classic story to tell and it fits exactly to a particular medical problem. Just spending a couple of minutes listening and asking some questions will lead you to the solution, and it probably matches a common or uncommon medical problem. After many years in practice, looking and listening to a patient tells most of the story of what is wrong.  Adding a physical exam will fill in the missing parts most of the time. The fancy diagnostic studies usually are a confirmation of the problem.

Relying On Technology

Many doctors are now trained using technology. The patient history is on the computer and the first thoughts are what do the studies indicate. If the picture (imaging) shows problems, then that must be what is wrong. Treating a test or picture can be okay, but the body has a remarkable way to adapt to changes, and the true problem is usually more complex then the picture and the way to navigate to a solution is to stop and ask the patient what is wrong, then correlate to an exam and picture.

Last week being old school paid off. A new patient showed up at my office frustrated that she had years of pain and no explanation. The patient had been everywhere, including the Holy Grail –The Mayo Clinic – and still no answer on what was wrong. The patient did have a confusing history, but it was important and the details gave the clues. Watching the patient walk and looking at her legs and arms was truly remarkable. The patient was in her 20’s and was significantly weak with loss of muscle bulk.

She had a significantly abnormal exam and likely had a serious muscle and nerve disorder. If the previous physicians only took the time, they would have figured out there was a problem and could have guided the patient towards better solutions years ago. Now, hopefully the patient can get the right diagnosis and help. It may take time and a few more tests, but an answer can be found. One of the best skills a doctor can have is the ability to listen and look at a patient. It is simple, but medicine has changed and doctors are rarely paid to take the time to do the basics.

Connecting The Medical Dots

Connecting the MEdical Dots SartellMedicine today has become fractured. Primary care does basic analysis of a problem and basic care of that problem, while specialists have become such experts that they often can not see past their own rabbit hole. Few doctors are willing to look at the whole picture, analyze the patient as a person and all the problems presented. When someone takes the time and connects the dots, something special happens, and a path to the future can be found. For many patients, finding the doctor that has the experience to listen, to ask the right questions and to find the source of the problem can take years.

One Patient’s Dots Become Connected

Being a patient can be very frustrating. The other day I had a new patient with back pain, which is a pretty normal complaint for a referral. The patient was referred from an orthopedic spine surgeon who felt the patient was not a candidate for surgery. She was in her mid-30’s and had neck and upper back pain. She also has had longstanding scoliosis, a prominent curvature of the spine, and she had been to a number of previous providers for the problems and wants answers and a solution.

I usually work with a scribe. When I started my visit with the woman with scoliosis, she was fascinated. Within in a couple minutes and a few choice questions, my scribe saw a light in my brain go on and the discovery of the unifying diagnosis that no one in the past had a clue about. The patient had scoliosis, but had been double jointed, had shoulder and knee joint issues, had heartburn, and cardiac problems. She also had siblings that were double jointed. The unifying theme was a genetic-based connective tissue disorder, probably a form of Ehlers Danlos syndrome or Marfan’s disease. This will need to be confirmed by further testing and probably genetic testing.

Finding a diagnosis that connects the dots changes the whole picture of a problem. It no longer is a set of random of events causing pain. Now there is a reason and a pathway to follow to manage the problems. There is also knowledge about the course of the disease and a way to anticipate future medical issues.

Unfortunately, most patients never can connect the dots. Primary care physicians often do not have the time to address more than one problem at a visit. Specialists are only interested in their small corner of the world. My world often consists of looking at odd medical issues. Many times helping a patient means having to analyze the past, ask a few questions, closely listen to what a patient says, and bringing together the story to develop a pathway to the future.

The best patient care is provided by those providers who can see the big picture. Medicine has been fractured by the pressures to see as many patients as possible if providing primary care, or staying in your specialty only for others. Seeing the big picture and connecting the dots is a lost art. Changing lives for a patient means being able to go beyond the ordinary and really trying to answer the all their questions to uncover a long-term solution.

Improving Care by Listening and Explaining

An article in Sunday’s Star Tribune discussed a new program at the University of Chicago where doctors work to better explain medical problems to patients in order to provide better care. It sounds perfectly obvious to patients that doctors should be doing this, but doctors do not often understand this issue. What is obvious and simple to a doctor is a mystery to the patient. Being able to understand and explain the complex situation to a patient is what old time medicine is all about, and has often been lost in our high tech world.

Why The Change?

Medicine has changed significantly in the last twenty to thirty years. Technology and computers have taken a leading role. In the past, time was spent with the patient taking a history, doing an exam, and then discussing with the patient a plan of care. Afterwards a couple minutes was spent dictating a short note and checking off a sheet for a bill, then you were done. Most of the time was spent interacting with the patient. Today time is spent staring at a computer, first searching medical records, then filling out pages of forms to create a new report for the visit, then typing out orders for tests and bills. More time is spent interacting with the computer than with the patient. Government regulations demanding electronic medical records and ridiculous details for billing are partly to blame. Unfortunately, for many doctors it is easier to be quick and done than to spend time and effort explaining the complexities of the problem.

Listening Best Doctors St. Cloud

Pain management is no different, as many doctors do not spend the time to explain complex medical problems. Chronic pain is usually quite complex. There are often multiple factors contributing to the sensation of pain, and multiple areas affected. A lot of doctors just want things to be simple, and are not considering the full picture and how many issues may be present and interacting. Furthermore, they want to only deal with one problem at a time. Many pain doctors want to do only procedures and do not want to manage patients. Other pain doctors want to only deal with certain problems; they do not want to deal with medications, or have limited beliefs and are against many types of treatments from interventions to surgery. Finding a pain management doctor who is comprehensive, who understands the multiple complexities of pain problems and who can work with a patient as a partner to explain the problem and possible management options is difficult.

The solution to finding a good doctor is no easy task. There is no one place to look for a good doctor. Insurance companies set up panels of preferred providers that patients must pick from that have no correlation to quality. Physicians often have limited knowledge about their colleagues and their skills, and are even more reluctant to say anything negative about any other practice. Internet rating sites often have limited value since there is no good standard method to evaluate quality of medical care. Word of mouth from patients can sometimes be the best source of information. As rule of thumb, 90% of all physicians will do a good job, the trick is really to find the 10% who provide that exceptional level of care. Those 10% who are special in their level of skill will always be tough to find. When you do find those special quality providers, no matter what the profession, spread the word.

Finding Compassion in Medicine

Medicine has become a tough endeavor recently, as the physician is routinely under many pressures. Institutions and employers want as many patients seen as possible in an effort to increase their bottom line, while staff to assist the physician are often kept at a minimum to keep costs low. Tests and procedures should not be ordered or they need to be ordered more frequently, depending on who is paying the bill, and of course the physician should know which is the pertinent case. The physician also is getting paid too much and does not work enough hours. The physician also should do administrative work, read more current journals, and be responsible for quality improvement projects for the practice. They also must attend continuing education courses and constantly recertify their qualifications. The demands are endless.

As for the patient, they only want a good physician that can solve their problems quickly. Now that medicine has become more of a business, finding a good and caring physician is even harder. Physicians often feel they need to be done seeing a patient as quickly as possible. This is just the opposite of the needs of the patient. Many physicians have just given up with the pressures of the business, and have become mediocre at all aspects of medicine.

Striking a Compassion Balance

Finding the physician who has found the balance in medicine and who has the desire to provide high quality care is difficult. There is no magical way to find those special physicians, and word of mouth is often still the best method. There are rating services, but unfortunately most physicians try to hide from them and may not be very well represented. Furthermore, many of the best physicians let their skill be their only voice, and the best physicians often feel no need to advertise, as their work should speak for themselves.

Best Doctrs

In any profession, 90% of the practitioners are good, and 10% are exceptional. In medicine, this also holds true. The best physicians find a way to balance all the needs of the changes in the business of providing care. The most telling sign is that the patient always comes first. The physician will know his patients and their history, and will be willing to develop a joint treatment plan. They are up-to-date on research, and can explain complex medical problems without being flustered. Often they are experienced and can figure out what is wrong and what needs to be done quickly.

Medicine has become increasingly complex for both the patient and physician. Finding good medical care is difficult. Word of mouth, and sometimes the Internet can help find the better caregivers. Even good physicians are hampered by their surroundings and the business aspects of their offices. Every visit may not run smoothly, but having a physician that really knows how to help you is worth some inconveniences. Look for a physician who is mature, board certified in his specialty, and is prepared whenever they see you.

Doctor Ratings and the Importance of Communication

Best Doctors MNEveryone wishes to have the best doctor available. In Minnesota there are multiple rating services available that score doctors, however, which rating systems are the best? Some services rate doctors on their compliance to medical guidelines such as those established for asthma and diabetes. Other services monitor the cost of a physician’s per patient billing to the insurance company, while others are patient reviews. The real question is, what will make you happy with your choice of physician?

Important qualities in a doctor includes their knowledge, skill, understanding of a patient’s condition and their communication skills. Almost every physician will have a good basic set of knowledge about any medical condition that they treat. In any profession, from car mechanics to teachers, 90 percent of the practitioners are good and 10 percent are exceptional and have a special talent in that field. Skill level is similar; most physicians have good techniques, but some just know the small things that make all the difference when doing any procedure, and are just better than others.

Understanding a patient’s condition is somewhat complex. First, a doctor must be prepared. This includes reviewing a patient’s medical record and knowing their history. This is ongoing, and the doc should know this information at each visit. Medical records are helpful, but personal notes may be needed in addition to fill gaps. Experience is also important, as is continuing to grow in their skill by attending conferences and seminars on a regular basis.

Doctor-Patient Communication

Communication between the doctor and patient is critical in quality of care. Most important is that communication is not one directional. To treat a patient, a doctor needs to know what is wrong, what are the symptoms, and what is actually working correctly. Since doctors often have limited time with each patient, they will need to guide the conversation to obtain the relevant information. Being honest is also extremely important. There are often multiple sources to confirm data, and if the information provided is not truthful, a doctor will likely be guarded in their care. Patients also need to ask questions about their condition and be open about their recovery.

Ratings of doctors are of limited value. The final rating that matters is how well you communicate with your doctor and whether or not you trust his ability and knowledge. Sometimes, you can find the right physician without any trouble. Other times, word of mouth and information from friends who know the practitioner is critical. Ratings on the web may be inaccurate or forums for the unhappy patient. No physician will be perfect, but finding the right physician may be a matter of how well both you and the physician communicate with each other.