Here’s to the physicians, the globally recognized heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. This National Physicians Week, let’s show our appreciation with more than “thank you” billboards and heartfelt commercials.
Over the last two years, physicians have been revered as courageous warriors. While this recognition is warranted, a pat on the back is little in comparison to the gift that good health care reform would be. Let’s honor these individuals and other medical professionals by eliminating some of the obstacles they face each day.
Three reforms would contribute to fostering an environment that would allow physicians to be more patient focused: eliminating prior authorizations, allowing physicians to dispense common medications at the point of care, and preventing non-compete agreements from hindering physicians from practicing in their communities based on time and geography.
Prior Authorization requires physicians to submit tedious forms to insurers for their approval before prescribing certain medications or providing certain services to patients. While not all medication and services require prior authorizations, this process causes delay in care for many, many patients. Neither the patient nor the physicians should have to wait for this outside approval. Such a method questions the experience and training of physicians to prescribe treatment to the ill, all while putting the wellbeing of the patient at risk by delaying (and sometimes denying) their care.
Eliminating prior authorizations would remove what physicians have called their greatest administrative burden and would respect their training to submit orders without supervision of the middle-men insurers.
For similar reasons, another patient- and physician-friendly policy permits physicians to prescribe and dispense medication directly to a patient at the time of service. Currently, 45 states allow for physicians to both prescribe and dispense drugs to their patients from their offices, and the remaining five (including Texas) must follow suit.
One study showed that patient adherence rates to physician-prescribed treatment “vastly improves” when physicians are dispensing of medication. Such rates translate to quicker patient recovery and fewer follow-up visits, to the benefit of both the patient and the physician.
Additionally, this practice lowers the cost of medication by bypassing the pharmacy benefit managers — used by insurers to administer prescription drug coverage — whose service typically drives the cost of medications up.
Perhaps the most significant policy change would eliminate any restrictions on physicians’ ability to practice medicine based on geography and time. Typically, non-compete agreements stipulate that if a physician were to leave a hospital, he or she cannot practice for a period of time, within so many miles of any business associated with the employer — regardless of whether he or she worked in those locations or not.
There are industries that may benefit from non-compete agreements, industries that rely on the protection of their innovative product ideas or trade secrets. Health care is not one of those fields. The doctor-patient relationship can be severely strained through these contracts, as such agreements make commodities out of patients. On top of that, physicians who are unhappy in the hospital at which they are employed are pressed between a rock and a hard place — either stay at the hospitals they are unhappy with, possibly at the expense of the quality of their work and the service they provide or leave their hospital and uproot their lives to a new geographic location to find work outside of the boundaries determined in the contract.
Neither of these options are beneficial for the patient or the physician.
If, as a society, we believe that the health care workers are the heroes we have elevated them to be, the least they deserve is the benefits these policy reforms would reap. So enough with the physician flattery unaccompanied by legitimate acts of appreciation. Let this National Physicians Week be the time real changes for physicians are made.