John Hunt, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Liberty HealthShare
The last several decades have brought great advances in the science of medicine, but the art of medicine has been increasingly abandoned. However, healthsharing—if taken to heart by each and every Liberty HealthShare member and recognized for what it is—can empower the art of medicine toward rebirth. If you go to the effort of identifying a good primary care doctor for yourself and your family, you, your fellow members, and the healthcare community at large will be well served.
It used to be that most Americans could identify their personal physician by name, face, and smile. Most of us had a doctor who was our doctor. Rarely, we might be referred to one of their specialist colleagues, but it was our personal doctor who monitored our health in general. They cared for us, knew our family, and made it their business to understand the factors that affected our health.
These days, most patients don’t have their own doctor, but instead, use a practice in which they might see any one of the professionals there on a given day. Others don’t have any primary care relationship at all and instead visit emergency rooms, urgent care, or direct specialists for their needs. This sort of medical care is expensive and inefficient, but as a result of the third-party payer system (where someone else is always paying), there is little incentive for healthcare consumers to try to reduce costs.
From a physician’s perspective, all the headaches of the insurance-based medical system cost time and money while crowding out the artistic, caring, and empathic aspects of medicine. Instead of being able to practice an art, doctors are often now forced to function as technicians who follow an instruction manual. If you are fortunate, you may have a doctor in your area who has fled the insurance-based system entirely. Such doctors often charge low and honorable cash prices, either per visit or based on a monthly subscription. Such primary care practices work well with the healthsharing mentality.
If you are ready to choose a doctor, your first step should be to assess your family’s needs. Do you need someone with pediatric knowledge? If the kids are grown and out of the house, perhaps an internist would be a good fit. Family practice doctors are often the best choice for both individuals and families. I recommend seeking out a small practice with a stated focus on the long-term relationship between a doctor and patient.
Find a practice where the doctor has time for you. Avoid practices where there are no chairs in the exam room for the doctor to sit in. The absence of a chair for the doctor means that the practice has intentionally designed things so the doctor will be rushed. 90% of a doctor’s medical and health recommendations are based on talking with you, the patient, and not on a physical, lab tests, or radiological testing. Your doctor should have time to sit down and listen to you.
A doctor’s availability to you is also very important. Access to same-day office visits when you need them, easy telephone, e-mail, and video medicine communication, and even the convenience of texting are all beneficial features.
If you make the effort to find a doctor with whom visits are affordable and readily available, you may be inclined to seek their advice in a timely manner, which can keep you healthier in the long run, and make trips to the emergency room, urgent care, and specialists unnecessary.
A physician who is focused on their long-term relationship with you, makes himself or herself highly available, has time to talk to you, and bills honorably, is likely to be worthy of your trust. No physician is perfect, but if you and they invest time into the relationship, mutual trust can build over time.
Ultimately, your health is your health. A doctor is your advisor, not your ruler. A doctor will usually know diseases and health better than you do. But you know yourself better than your doctor knows you. Combining the doctor’s knowledge of disease and health with your knowledge of yourself—your strengths, limitations, priorities, and morality—provides the best approach to optimizing your health care.
The doctor-patient relationship provides the most cost-effective, efficient, and healthy approach to lifelong wellness. For this reason, I encourage you to put forth the necessary effort to find a doctor who has the skills, time, ethics, and empathy to care for you and your family. Doing so will restore your doctor and you to your rightful place as the ones who should be making decisions about your healthcare, while also bringing back some fiscal sanity to the healthcare system.