2011 MMS Oration: Powerful Messages on Physicians and Health Care
“Within my lifetime, our profession has changed profoundly. The practice of medicine is exciting but extremely complicated – scientifically, technologically, financially and academically. And we are at a breaking point.”
So began the 200th Annual Oration of the Massachusetts Medical Society, delivered by Sean Palfrey, M.D., professor of pediatrics and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine and a practicing pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, at the MMS 2011 Interim Meeting on Friday, December 2.
His presentation carried some powerful messages, not only for his physician colleagues in attendance, but also for other leaders in health care.
Encouraging a renewal of the human touch along with a “necessary discipline” to use modern technology appropriately, Dr. Palfrey said “We are at a very difficult juncture, a point where we have an embarrassment of scientific and technological riches that we need to learn to use optimally, yet we provide health care outcomes that compare poorly with the rest of the world. So this is a moment of huge opportunity as well as serious crisis.”
Dr. Palfrey’s Oration expanded on his viewpoint of how physicians should practice medicine today, first brought forward in a Perspective article, Daring to Practice Low-Cost Medicine in a High-Tech Era, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March.
Above all, Dr. Palfrey has a dual message for physicians. First, doctors should reconsider how they treat every patient and think about the cost and value of what they do. “Despite huge reservoirs of human warmth and dedication,” he says, “doctors are distancing themselves from their patients. Our ability to heal our patients depends both on our clinical skills and on our understanding of science and technology. Our patients are not simply the sum of their data, as vast as that might be, they don’t really exist inside a computer, and we need to keep reminding ourselves that it is our cognitive skills as physicians that really make us good healers.”
Second, physicians must advocate for what’s right for their patients and their practices and work collaboratively with others to improve the health care system. “We all need each other and should not see ourselves as competitors. Just as we should be partnering with lawyers to solve the huge malpractice challenges, we need to work with nursing and many other health professional administrations to solve the country’s massive staffing and personnel shortages. We should be welcoming and eager to partner with them so that each of us can be using our knowledge and training most effectively and be more satisfied in our clinical roles. This is not simply an issue of efficiency or financial resources or the national economy. It’s the future of quality health care.”
Dr. Palfrey’s perspective is worth the read. You may find the text of his Oration here.