‘Enough!’ We need to take back our profession
Every day, I am grateful that I became a physician and a psychiatrist. Every minute that I spend with patients is an honor and a privilege. I have never forgotten that. But it is heartbreaking to see my precious profession being destroyed by bureaucrats.
An example: I am concerned about the effect that passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) will have on physicians. I read articles telling us how we should handle this new plan for reimbursement, but I also read that 86% of physicians are not in favor of MACRA. How did we get stuck with it?
Another example of why it has become virtually impossible to do our job: I spend a fair amount of time obtaining prior authorization for generic medications that are available at big-box stores for $10 or $15; often, these authorizations need approval by the medical director. I have been beaten down enough over the years to learn that I should no longer prescribe brand-name medications—only generic medications (which still require authorization!), even when my patient has been taking the medication for 10 or 15 years. The last time I sought authorization to prescribe a medication, the reviewer asked me why I had not tried 3 different generics over the past year. I had to remind her that I had an active prior authorization in place from the year before, and so why would I do what she was proposing?
Physicians are some of the most highly trained professionals. It takes 7 to 15 years to be able to be somewhat proficient at the job, then another 30 or 40 years of practice to become really good at it. But we’ve become technicians at the mercy of business executives: We go to our office and spend our time checking off boxes, trying to figure out proper coding and the proper diagnosis, so that we can get an appropriate amount of money for the service we’re providing. How has it come to this? Why can’t we take back our profession?
Another problem is that physicians are being paid for their performance and the outcomes they produce. But people are not refrigerators: We can do everything right and the patient still dies. I have a number of patients who have no insight into their psychiatric illness; no matter what I say, or do, or how much time I spend with them, they are nonadherent. How is this my fault?
Physicians are not given the opportunity to think for themselves, or to prescribe treatments that they see fit and document in ways that they were trained. Where is the American Medical Association, the Connecticut State Medical Society, the Hartford County Medical Association, and all the other associations that supposedly represent us? How have they allowed this to happen?
In the future, health care will be provided by physician assistants and nurse practitioners; physicians will provide background supervision, or perform surgery, but the patient will never meet them. I respect NPs and PAs, but they do not have the rigorous training that physicians have. But they’re less expensive—and isn’t that what it’s all about?
If we are not going to speak up, or if we are not going to elect officials to truly represent us and advocate for us, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
Carole Black Cohen, MD
Private psychiatric practice