I think sometimes we fail to remember that our patients are our greatest allies, he said. When we see them in vulnerable situations, we have an opportunity to reach out to them to deliver the message about what is going to happen to them and their health care. But sometimes we miss the opportunity.
Explore this issue:July 2009
He said he was deeply affected by a six-page, single-spaced letter he had received just days before he left to attend the society’s meeting, from a doctor who had been the chairman of a large surgery department, then became the dean of a medical school, then became president of a leading academic hospital in the United States. But when he found himself a patient, his experience was most unpleasant, Dr. Healy said.
It was a shameful depiction of what has happened to our profession, from not being listened to, to be being disregarded, to not having any input from his doctors, who were too busy to spend the time talking, he said. It left him with an indelible feeling that we have significant challenges to right the ship so that we will not be vulnerable to criticism from our government and from our patients, who say, ‘Well, you folks can’t fix it, so we’re going to fix it for you.’
Teamwork Is Essential
Aside from problems with professionalism, Dr. Healy said, there is also a problem with teamwork.
The future of surgery in this country is around teams, he said. We were not trained to work in this atmosphere, but we must learn to become leaders of these high-performance surgical teams.
He said there is no doubt that America’s $2 trillion-a-year health care system needs to change. As technology, infrastructure, and other costs rise, patient access and preventive care has declined, and errors are going up-a troubling pattern that Dr. Healy called the great paradox.
He also pointed to a clash of values-the medical world becoming more preoccupied with business principles that are at odds with the humanitarian values that lead doctors into the field.
I’m really sick of hearing that health care is a business, Dr. Healy said. The same people that got us in trouble in the business and then in the banking world in America-have you noticed that they’re now talking to the health care industry? The business schools of America are now running courses for doctors to come and learn all the principles that they taught the people who ran General Motors, Chrysler, Bank of America. Now that those people are gone, they’re looking to you. Be very careful! This is very seductive. It’s about money, it’s about profit, it’s about competition. Does this sound like, perhaps, your hospital?