Finding the right speed for your practice.
In medicine, physicians often find themselves navigating a metaphorical highway with fast and slow lanes. Just like driving on a four-lane highway, maintaining the right speed is crucial to ensure a safe and efficient journey for both patients and physicians. In this blog, I'll describe the concept of "driving too slow in the fast lane" and "driving too fast in the slow lane," using medical examples to highlight the importance of finding the right speed in patient care.
A medical example is a delayed diagnosis and initiating treatment. Imagine cruising down a freeway highway at a snail's pace while faster cars are honking impatiently behind you. In medicine, driving too slow in the fast lane can lead to missed opportunities for early diagnosis and timely treatment.
A medical scenario of driving too slow in fast might occur when a cancer diagnosis might be missed. When physicians overlook or underestimate early warning signs, such as persistent coughs, unexplained weight loss, or abnormal lumps, they may inadvertently delay the cancer diagnosis. This delay could significantly affect patients, potentially impacting treatment options and overall prognosis.
A second example is failing to recognize the severity of an infection, such as meningitis or sepsis, which might lead to critical delays in initiating treatment. In these cases, swift action is vital to prevent complications and ensure the best possible outcome for the patient.
Finally, mental health conditions may be misdiagnosed due to their subtle symptoms or societal stigma. Physicians dismissing or neglecting to explore psychological distress in their patients may hinder their access to necessary mental health support and intervention. In the worst case, overlooking mental health, concerns may result in untreated depression and even suicide.
A driver zooming past slow-moving vehicles in the slow lane may make great progress but miss essential details like the opportunity to refill the gas or missing a drive-through restaurant along the way. Similarly, driving too fast in the slow lane in medicine can lead to a need for more attention to offering advice on wellness and preventive health.
For example, physicians may quickly prescribe medications to manage symptoms without fully investigating the root cause of the problem. This approach might mask underlying issues and hinder patients from receiving appropriate non-pharmacological interventions or lifestyle modifications.
A second example occurs when physicians might inadvertently rush through patient visits, potentially missing vital details about the patient's medical history, concerns, or lifestyle factors. This might include not taking a good medication history and prescribing medicine that may have a drug-drug interaction with their existing medications or their over-the-counter supplements.
When a physician focuses solely on acute care while neglecting preventive measures can lead to a cycle of recurring health issues. By overlooking the importance of regular screenings, vaccinations, and lifestyle counseling, physicians may miss opportunities to enhance long-term health outcomes.
Striking a balance is like a skilled driver adjusting their speed according to road conditions, weather, and traffic. An effective physician must tailor their approach to each patient's unique situation by finding the right balance.
Take time to actively listen to patients, understanding their concerns and including their non-medical problems. Perhaps a patient is involved in a messy divorce, and the stress may impact their blood pressure and adherence to a diabetic diet.
Prioritize preventive care to identify potential health risks early on and empower patients to take control of their well-being. This may include a recommendation to involve the sedentary patient in an exercise program to reduce their stress levels.
Consider engaging in collaboration with various medical specialties and allied health professionals. Consider appropriate referral to a nutritionist for patients who need to reduce their caloric consumption or modify their salt intake to control their blood pressure.
Bottom Line: We live in a fast-paced world, including the practice of medicine, where finding the right lane and speed is essential to being a good doctor. So, take a moment to put your practice on cruise control and identify the appropriate lane and speed needed to lead your patients to optimum health. Both you and your patients will enjoy the ride.
Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish.