If you have kids or grandkids, it’s likely they—and possibly you—are familiar with the 2014 animated film Big Hero 6. In the movie, one of the characters creates Baymax, a robotic “personal healthcare companion.” Throughout the film, Baymax strives to provide “satisfactory medical care” while either misunderstanding or ignoring the expressed desires of the patient. Over and over again, with utter sincerity, Baymax asks, “Are you satisfied with your care?” Characters respond with frustration. While he’s asking an important question and he has the right skills, Baymax is not really listening. Despite their repeated objections, the robotic “healthcare companion” prioritizes his own agenda over his patients’ concerns.
A robotic system that ignores patients, follows its own rules and prioritizes its personal agenda… That sounds a lot like the system of corporate medicine that has been slowly taking over American healthcare. But, unlike Baymax, who eventually learns to listen to and works with his patients, the corporate medical system has only continued its trend of prioritizing billable services over actual patient care.
“Satisfaction” by the numbers
When patients raise objections, the system tells them that medical providers have a system in place to “encourage” providers to deliver effective care. They talk about HCAHPS and Press Ganey, as well as other metrics used to measure patient satisfaction. Financial incentives for doctors are tied to these Patient Satisfaction Scores, which threaten to compel doctors and nurses to act in ways that may result in high HCAHPS scores but may not actually coincide with delivering optimal patient care.
Sometimes, to effectively treat a patient, doctors have to say things and do things that the patient may not enjoy. We have to share hard truths and ask them to buy-in to a treatment plan that might not be fun or easy. In those moments, satisfaction scores and system regulations implemented by people who have never treated a patient should not interfere with the best interests of that patient. But, in corporate medicine, they often do.
Some corporate interests which own multiple medical providers have opted to cut costs by, reportedly, choosing not to treat patients who arrive at their facilities with nonurgent conditions (such as a virus or a sprain) unless those patients pay in advance*. In these cases, corporate medicine is literally putting profits ahead of caring for patients. And, due to inflated prices, many of these patients can’t afford much more than basic care, if that. As a result, patients receive substandard care, if they receive any care at all, and the system provider still has the gall to ask them to fill out “satisfaction” surveys.
People vs. the System
Another simple reason why the encroaching trend of corporate medicine is delivering less than satisfactory care is that the system is defining care as numbers on a spreadsheet, ignoring the fact that the beating heart of medicine is a person delivering care to another person.
A physician, using their hard-earned knowledge and experience, may believe a specific treatment will offer a better outcome for a patient, and that may put them at odds with what the system says should be done. Meanwhile, the patient, who is already worried and hurting, may become frustrated, scared, confused, or noncompliant. Patients need a knowledgeable, compassionate medical professional they can trust. Someone they know has their best interests at heart. They don’t want a system or a checklist or yet more paperwork handed to them. They want clear communication and professional, precise care guided by empathy.
Patients need someone they know has their best interests at heart.
People are not machines, and doctors aren’t either. Corporate medicine pretends both patients and medical professionals can easily fit into a system motivated by bottom-line profits and managed by spreadsheets and HCAHPS scores. That system may deliver profits for the corporate interests, but it fails both the patient and the doctors, who are doing their best to provide satisfactory care in a system that’s working against them.
The corporate medical system fails because medicine is not a commodity and people are not parts on an assembly line. Every individual is different; we all face diverse challenges, circumstances, and unique medical realities. These individual situations rarely fit neatly into a system set up to deliver “care” as if that care was a package they need to drop on your porch.
At Atlanta Spine Specialists, we put patients first in everything we do. Because we operate independently of the corporate system, we’re able to directly connect the genuine care we have for our patients with the medical advice and treatment that will help them achieve their goals.
If you’re frustrated, if you feel your doctor isn’t listening, or that you’re stuck on a treadmill getting no closer to a solution to your medical issue, you have options. Click this link to make an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Skaliy today.
*SOURCE: A 2012 investigative report by the New York Times