This painting by Norman Rockwell was from 1938. In it Rockwell captured the nostalgia for the time when our old country doctor still made house calls, knew the family and everything about us. It made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post and the original inspired The Upjohn Company to commission paintings from Rockwell that were subsequently shared with physicians and hospitals all over America. It was a perfect fit for a very family-oriented company as Upjohn was.
The doctor, in this case reminded me of ‘ol Doc Frazier,’ our family physician who was like Doc Mellhorn in every respect, including the occasional house call. It was at a time when there weren’t many prescriptions to give and Doc Frazier’s words and hands conveyed all the confidence we needed to get better.
Stephen Schimpff, MD FACP, author of “Fixing Primary Care: Reclaiming the Patient Physician Relationship and Returning Healthcare Decisions to You and Your Doctor” talks of this intimate relationship and understanding that needs to exist between doctor and patient in order to truly have a relationship with the patient. It requires that there be enough primary care physicians (PCP) and that their case loads be such that they can spend quality time with a patient. But neither of these exist for the vast majority of PCPs today. There are not enough physicians going into primary care and their schedules push the limits by seeing a patient every fifteen minutes on average.
And the rest of the players in healthcare try to figure out how to create better patient engagement. We create applications and platforms, devices and means of tracking every patient interaction after leaving the hospital or even the doctor’s office. But is it the same? What the patient longs for is the voice of a caring someone in healthcare that will know them well enough to feel comfortable calling them anytime.
When I was running the MEDBANK Program in Maryland to provide medications for those that couldn’t afford them, our patient service representatives would relate story after story of the way they got to “know” their patients as a result of helping them get medications. It meant more time on the phone but it was important and they bent over backwards to try to be patient and let the patient speak. By listening we often caught problems we were unaware of because we weren’t seeing all the physicians that a patient was seeing and we would catch dangerous duplications of effort by different physicians. In some small way our relationship with our patient helped and made us both feel better.
Today with the overhead of hospitals and clinics and offices, salaries are always under fire and a critical shortage of staffing exists in various settings. What can be done then?
I chose to join a company that can help cement that physician-patient relationship by providing a staff of trained nurses that can call the patient according to whatever protocol and schedule the doctor would like and act on behalf of that office to listen, to hear what is going on in a patient’s life, what’s working and what’s not. Then we help that medical office to get that message and see the patient again if necessary. A call from the office can adjust or change a medication if necessary, simply whatever is needed to keep that patient well and out of another crisis.
Our nurses are in the Philippines, but you would never know it from the phone call. The connection is clear, the English is near perfect and the empathy and the compassion for the patient is audible in every call. We do this at a fraction of what it would cost to do it in the U.S. and instead of a nursing shortage we work in a nursing surplus. What does this mean back in the office? It means that nurses on staff can stay busy with patients and providing clinical support undistracted by calls, at least not by the ones we make before a patient gets in trouble. Freeing up office resources we can teach about applications, devices and provide patient education that is so easily available now.
In short, at Infinit Healthcare we are filling that gap of ‘human touch’ in a long distance connection that feels right next door. With the ears of caring nurses we extend what is possible in our current healthcare setting so that whatever new technology is utilized there is a kind and caring voice that is always available and the relationship with the physician is solidified.