The idea of forcing cuts that might compromise innovations that could otherwise help patients was an emotional point for Dr. Berke. He talked about the time 20 years ago when he was referred a Latino tree trimmer who had fallen and crushed his larynx and trachea. Dr. Berke operated on him several times pro bono.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2011
“When I finally removed his T tube,” he said, “I distinctly remember on his last visit, when I taped up his tracheostomy, he looked up at me with tears of gratitude in his eyes and I heard him speak for the first time. He said, ‘Thank you, Dr. Berke, thank you.’”
—Paul Levine, MD
Dr. Berke said he realized at that moment that medicine is a privileged profession and that, despite today’s climate of uncertainty, helping patients is the real motivation behind why doctors do what they do.
The address was well received by the crowd.
“His remarks were right on target,” said Paul Levine, MD, chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “I think that he’s, number one, making us remember the importance of what we do, and recognizing that making a lot of money isn’t all of what we do.”
Some of the criticism of health care spending has been brought on by doctors themselves, though, Dr. Levine said.
“We as an organization, i.e., physicians, have spent the last 10 or more years just trying to get reimbursements from Medicare and fighting with insurance companies, and clearly that’s been the wrong approach,” he said. “If we had stressed quality, we would have gotten what we would consider reasonable payment for our work.”
David Schuller, MD, cancer research chair at the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, said he was glad Dr. Berke challenged the assertions made about medicine in the U.S.
“It was great to see that Gerry has delved into the details to try to sort out some of these criticisms of American health care, and is it apples to apples?” Dr. Schuller said.
“I loved the way he ended it, quite frankly, talking about (how) the value of our discipline is the opportunity to develop special relationships with our patients,” he said, adding that a doctor without such a relationship would be more inclined to order costly tests to cover himself and avoid litigation. “Having these relationships that evolve over time,” he said, “is really key, I think, to practicing effective medicine.”