Today I’m getting my left eye cut open. A cataract has been gradually clouding my lens, so that now I have trouble seeing the big E on the chart. I’m spending half the day at Passavant Hospital.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common operations in the US. My doctor, David Sutton, has successfully replaced thousands of cataracts with artificial lenses. I’ve already had this done to my other eye, with an amazing improvement in my vision. But I’m still nervous.
My confidence in Dr. Sutton keeps my anxiety in check. By explaining to me exactly what he would do and frankly discussing what results I can expect, he gave me faith that he would do the best possible work. Pretty good work on my eye would not be enough. I need him to be perfect.
That’s true for all of my doctors. When I visit William Weller to get a cap on my tooth or Shawn Fry to get a cyst cut out or Charles Wilson to deal with a kidney stone, I don’t want even a little mistake. My health depends on their skills, their precision, their perfection.
And on one other thing – their bedside manner. That phrase is now outdated, since doctors don’t make house calls any more, so let’s say “office manner”. If I don’t have faith in their expertise and belief in their concern for my health, I’ll be less likely to accept their advice when they say, “It’s time to cut.”
They provide that confidence by the way they interact with me in their offices. They give me confidence in many ways. Dr. Weller is the third generation in his family to become a dentist and has seen patients all over the world. Dr. Wilson embodies the experienced authority of a lifetime of medical practice. Dr. Fry projects enthusiasm for family practice, when many of her medical colleagues are seeking more lucrative specialties.
Very important to me is that they are all willing to give me time to understand what they tell me, to ask questions and make my own choices. That time is becoming a rarity. Doctors’ offices are becoming ever busier places and the time we see the doctor is being replaced by time with an increasing number of doctors’ helpers. Fewer and fewer doctors are in practice for themselves, as they become employees of for-profit clinics, sometimes as franchises of even larger corporations. As medical practice becomes more business-like, I worry that the precious time with the doctor is under increasing pressure.
The delivery of health care in the US is being transformed in my lifetime from individual practice to corporate medicine. It can be difficult to find a family physician who will take on a new patient. Many people get all their medical care in overcrowded emergency rooms. Yet the only thing that we are talking about is medical insurance. The entire national conversation about health care revolves around money.
Medical insurance is very important. It does not save us money, but it makes the costs of health care more predictable from year to year. It is also incredibly complicated, taking up more and more of our time and attention. Insurance companies make a growing number of medical decisions, overruling doctors and patients.
But insurance is just one factor in our changing health care system. Right now I am much more concerned about my relationship with my doctor, which today will become very close, as he works on my eye. I don’t want him to feel rushed to get to his next patient. I want the hospital facilities to be free of germs. I want to be sure that decisions that ultimately affect my health are not simply driven by some corporate bottom line.
I have faith in Dr. Sutton, and in all my doctors. They are dedicated professionals, who are also caring people. They know how to make me feel comfortable, even when they do uncomfortable things to my body. If only our politicians acted as professionally as our doctors, instead of trying to scare us with stupid phrases like “death panels” and “Obamacare”. Naturally I’ll be nervous today, but not nearly as nervous as I am about what is going to happen to our national system of health care.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 17, 2011