Lately, there has been a lot of talk about depression and burnout among physicians. The New York Times covered the topic last month in "Take Care of the Physician," an article that discussed how low morale and depression amongst physicians have significant impact on patient outcomes.
It's no surprise to those of us in the medical field that doctors feel pressure more acutely than most other professions. Mistakes can literally be deadly. Good health is the most precious of life's gifts and managing that kind of responsibility can be overwhelming for a doctor, especially when there is simply not enough time in the day to give patient concerns the attention, thoughtfulness, and research that is required.
Over the years, I have suggested concierge medicine as a good way to prevent burned out physicians from retiring. But now we are learning that the problem is even graver and more urgent than that. According to The New York Times, "physicians are at approximately twice the relative risk of suicide compared to people in other professions. An estimated 300-400 physicians commit suicide every year."
This has to stop—but how? Reimbursements are bundled and unbundled, ACA is on and off, and more and more practices are being purchased by large delivery systems with vertically integrated business models that may promote high productivity with unexpected results. Volume care is considered by many as the only way for a practice to sustain itself—but we see the dire effects this has on physicians, and by extension, patients.
This is no longer about an improved work/life balance. For many doctors, it's about mental health—life and death, depression, suicidal thoughts, a feeling of desperation. These physicians need to find some space in their schedule to get back to practicing medicine in a satisfying manner, without regard to timelines and productivity. They need to feel like they are making a difference, to practice in a worthwhile manner that makes them happy again—without making them bankrupt.
If current payers like insurance, government programs, and large hospital employers won't help, doctors need to explore ways to help themselves.
Concierge medicine is a way to turn the tide. Whether the doctor converts entirely to a membership model, or just a part, the satisfaction that a concierge approach to medicine provides physicians is measurable and can make all the difference.
Just look at what physicians in our concierge programs are reporting:
"It makes it a joy to come to work."
"I joke, but my concierge program is saving my life as a physician."
"I still spend the same amount of hours in the office, but the work is less compressed and more enjoyable."
"I truly believe I know my patients and their needs better than ever before."
It's time for doctors to begin healing themselves, so they can help their patients heal. We need healthy, satisfied physicians who are more effective and make less mistakes. Until the marketplace recognizes the value that happier doctors provide, it's up to doctors and patients to create their own market.