I am tired of it. I sit down and skim the headlines of the paper and I become more depressed every day. The stories have the same themes over and over again….Physicians should be disciplined when patients overdose on painkillers.….We need to “bundle” payments to limit physician reimbursements……“Walmart Clinics” are becoming great alternatives to doctors’ visits……Physicians are drug and alcohol abusers so we need to subject them to random drug and alcohol testing….Patients should have the right to sue physicians for however much they want….Doctors who work as consultants for drug companies are getting paid too much and that needs to be regulated……Doctors are defrauding Medicare and everyone needs to have easy access to how much they earn…..Physicians are now charging extra fees above insurance reimbursements—how dare they………Physician tries to kill Michael Jackson…..Physician kills Joan Rivers at an outpatient facility…..
I watch the Nightly News with Brian Williams every evening to keep up with what’s going on in the world. But, I have noticed that I have never seen a story about a physician who does something extraordinary for his/her patients….Maybe I missed the newscast that day? The “In Memoriums” on the national broadcast are almost always reserved for people in the entertainment industry…a songwriter, a great actor, a talented comedian, or an incredible athlete. The broadcasters honor the lives of those who have entertained us. They forget to remember those who have saved us.
This year, I have been barraged by articles all over the internet and newspapers about how some doctors were billing Medicare for millions of dollars. It hurts my eyes to see headline after headline pinning doctors as money grubbers raking in taxpayer dollars. Here are some of the headlines: “Medicare Paid One Doctor More than $20 Million in 2012” (The Wall Street Journal). “Political Ties of Top Billers for Medicare” (The New York Times). “4 County Doctors Bill Medicare for $18.4 Million (Veronews). “Data Trove Shows US Doctors Reap Millions from Medicare (Bangor Daily News). “Texas Doctors Got Millions in Medicare Pay” (The Dallas Morning News). “Doctors Rake in Millions from Medicare” (The Charlston Gazette). What really saddens me is that these headlines grossly misrepresent the true financial reality for these doctors. Most doctors are not earning millions (even though I can argue that they, more than anyone else, deserve to). The Medicare numbers do not reflect their net incomes at all. Of those doctors who are billing high amounts, many of them are administering drugs that can cost over $2000 or more a dose (i.e. macular degeneration injections, oncology infusions, immune therapies). Many of those physicians have several offices with dozens of employees, or they employ dozens of doctors whose earnings are included in those numbers. These headlines do not account for office overheads and expenses that can cost as much as 80 percent of the “Medicare reimbursement” numbers. Why is the press looking to hurt us like this?
Recently, I was very excited that the press was interested in Dr. Kent Brantly, the 33-year old physician who almost lost his life from contracting the Ebola virus in Africa. He is an amazing physician and a true superhero. He is someone who was willing to sacrifice his life to help those who were in the direst need of medical care. But unfortunately, even with Dr. Brantly’s story, most of the press was focused on finding out how he survived the virus as opposed to praising him or honoring him for being a true hero in every sense of the word. This man did something nobler with his life than anything I could ever imagine. While other 33-year-olds were in Las Vegas downing vodka and clubbing, he went to third world countries in Africa—with the harshest conditions, the scarcest resources, and the sickest people–to save thousands of lives while sacrificing his own. Am I wrong to believe that this man deserves a medal of honor? Does he not deserve recognition higher than most people on this planet? If that is not the essence of heroism, then what is?
Physicians should be society’s superheros, not society’s dumping ground. No. I promise that I am not naïve. I have hundreds of friends and dozens of family members who are physicians. The majority of them are truly ethical, self-sacrificing, brilliant, hard working people who want to do whatever it takes to make other people’s lives better. They have studied longer and harder than everyone else I know, they have had to maintain perfect GPA’s, they have been emotionally abused, physically drained, and grossly underpaid during training. They have not slept for days at a time. They risk losing their life savings and their sanity if they get sued. They continue to leave everything at a moment’s notice to save lives at any time of day. The press tells us otherwise. Just read the headlines. We are portrayed as negligent, selfish killers who are in it for the money and willingly murder society’s favorite entertainers.
Should we stay quiet and just continue to endure the dismal portrayal of doctors in the newspapers and on television? Haven’t we tolerated the ridicule and the pigeonholing long enough? The morale of physicians is being suffocated by all this sensationalism and criticism. It is time for the incredible accomplishments of doctors to become newsworthy. Doctors are being rapidly replaced by less qualified practitioners at highly regarded hospitals and clinics. Fewer and fewer of the best and the brightest students from top universities choose to go to medical school after graduation. Why would they want to even consider a profession associated with the grim realities portrayed by the press—more regulation, fraud, abuse, negligence, malpractice, audits, penalties, revoked licenses.…….
Doctors…….Please start sharing stories about the heroism of your colleagues with the press. Share your successes. Share your discoveries. Share your inventions. Share your awards. Encourage patients to share stories of gratitude for their doctors, not the rare misfortunes. Write letters when you feel that your colleagues are being defamed or misrepresented in the news. Defend your colleagues. Defend the reputation of physicians. We can no longer be scapegoats for society’s discontent with the healthcare system. We need to have self-respect. We are in this profession because we agree that saving lives and preserving health is precious. It is up to us to convince the press that they should be on our side.
Adam Katz MD
Editorial Writer for DoctorCPR.com.