By Grace-Marie Turner
The growing bureaucratization of medicine presents a serious threat to physicians’ ability to provide quality patient care. Whether through big government or mega hospital systems, innovation and detailed attention to the needs of individual patients will suffer.
The pain will be especially acute for independent practices specializing in primary care. They operate with the narrowest margins and have the fewest resources to adjust to the mountain of new regulatory demands being imposed on them.
Many good, dedicated physicians say the administrative burdens of the health care overhaul law and the massive new medical coding system scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, will force them to retire early.
These retirements will exacerbate the already serious shortage of physicians at a time when we are bringing millions more patients into our health insurance system. Rural areas will be hit hardest.
Physicians too young to retire are selling their practices to hospitals at a record rate, largely in hopes they will be insulated from the regulatory avalanches. But this is false protection: Hospitals will only be the intermediaries in pushing the bureaucratic demands down to physicians.
Certainly there is a great need in our health sector for more and better information to assist physicians in making decisions about the best care for their patients. In theory, hospitals could serve as conduits to inform and guide physicians. But they are themselves responding to government directives that constrain their ability to focus on the patient. Ideas and input from physicians will be pushed further down the totem pole, stifling the creativity that has energized medical innovation for more than a generation.
If changes are not good for doctors and patients, they are not good for our health system. More and bigger bureaucracies, whether public or private, are not the answer to what ails our health sector.
Posted on The New York Times: Room For Debate, March 5, 2014