Christmas and Change

I wrote this 6 years ago. It is oddly suited today, because the more we learn, the more we discover to learn. The better I get, the worse I was.

 

Merry Christmas. Christianity was seen by Bertrand Russel as an excuse for mediocrity. I think this perception can arise from Christianity’s insistence on the potential for change.

Christianity is (or at least should be) about forgiveness and redemption above all. That means no matter how inadequate we are, how erroneous our ways, how mediocre our performance, there is always the opportunity for improvement. This position can sometimes seem to excuse past mediocrity, perhaps even celebrate it and reward it.

I was an awkward child, and a certain social awkwardness has penetrated into my adult life. But I am getting better. I have made many mistakes and continue making them. But I need to be free of the baggage of past errors in order to progress. For this reason perhaps, Christianity seems so ready and willing to forgive everything, in heaven if not on earth.

There can be no redemption without guilt. There can be no change without mediocrity. They are the catalysts for change.

Have a warm and happy day.

A Splintered House

This is the text of a speech I gave to the Clark County Medical Society’s New Physician Reception in 2013.

Thank you to our sponsors and guests, to the Board of the CCMS and especially to each of you for coming. To all the new physicians; welcome to Clark County and to the medical society. I want to take a few minutes tonight and talk to you about our medical society and its history, my personal spin on what has happened to medicine in the 72 years since CCMS got started and how the House of Medicine became splintered. I would also like to talk a little about what our future might look like under the current and coming reality. Life is changing quickly for physicians these days.

“Clark County Medical Service Corporation” was established in 1941. The articles of incorporation, written under the name “Clark County Medical Society, Inc.”, were signed by Clyde B. Hutt, MD, as President and L.E. Hockett, MD as Secretary/Treasurer and were approved and filed on December 3, 1942. The constitution and by-laws of 1942 were amended on May 6, 1947 and adopted by membership on May 4, 1948. The bylaws have stood unamended since the last review and overhaul accomplished in 1991. They have withstood the test of time.

Medicine was simpler back in 1941. The bulk of CCMS membership knew each other. The largest group in town was the Vancouver Clinic and it had four doctors: a GP, a surgeon, a pediatrician and an OBGYN. If you wanted to hang a shingle, you may have wanted to meet the local docs so they could tell patients about you and maybe put in a good word for you at local merchants and businesses or maybe the bank. The county medical society was a way to let people know what your special interests and skills were and this was the way you got most of your referrals.

No I am not going to wax sentimental about the golden age of medicine. County medical societies had a dark side: they were exclusive and closed old-boys clubs that enforced standards of behavior in a manner that would be frowned upon today. They focused too much on their own interests and not enough on the health of the people they served. Keeping an eye on the money worked well for the US medical societies, and their parent organizations all the way up to the AMA, until the first turf wars erupted. I don’t need to belabor strife within the House of Medicine.

At the turn of the last century, there was a tug of war in the House of Medicine regarding the need for specialization: Some thought that generalism was necessary to understand the whole person, others thought that specialism was the way of increasing the relevance of physicians and to provide the best possible care for individuals. This was all derived from scientific medicine and the notion prevalent in an industrial society that there was more value in specializing.  Sir William Osler, perhaps the largest historical proponent of scientific medicine was ambivalent about the notion: “[Specialization]’” he said and I am quoting here, “must then be associated with large views on the relation of the problem, and a knowledge of its status elsewhere; otherwise it may land him in the slough of a specialism so narrow that it has depth and no breadth, or he may be led to make what he believes to be important discoveries, but which have long been current coin in other lands. It is sad to think that the day of the great polymathic student is at an end; that we may, perhaps, never again see a Scaliger, a Haller, or a Humboldt—men who took the whole field of [human] knowledge for their domain and viewed it as from a pinnacle. “

One of the earliest specialty societies was the American Academy of Pediatrics, hatched about 15 miles from here at an AMA meeting in 1930. In 1933, dermatology, OB-GYN, ophthalmology and ENT were the founding members of the ABMS. 1941 marked the year that the CCMS was founded and that Anesthesia became America’s 15th recognized specialty. Today we have splintered into between 130 and 157 specialties and sub specialties depending on how you count them and nearly as many specialty societies.

I think that is the word that best represents the House of Medicine today: splintered.

But somehow I think that people with an MD or a DO degree after their name may share certain characteristics more than a similar day-to-day existence within their own narrow silos of specialty and employment.

Somehow I think that people whose primary role is to help patients navigate our current morass of regulation, government, insurance, corporations, pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of various gadgets and medical technologies from titanium hips to scribe-friendly keyboard operated EHRs… somehow these people who bear the primary responsibility for trying at least to improve the health of well-being of their patients (and by consequence our community) have more in common than their differences would suggest.

When I first got to Clark County 4 years ago, I set about charting a course to understand how I could personally influence the course of events impacting my life. I have a MPH,  so I was interested in my role as an advocate for patients and how I could impact the epidemiological measures of health. I looked at what my specialty society was doing in the local community. I found the impact was driven by individuals, many of whom were involved with the local residency. The point is that my specialty association’s largest impact was being felt at the national level and had recently hired a lobbyist at the state. At the local level it was not any association, it was the individuals. I think this is probably true for each of our specialty associations. We can do at least as well locally.

So I believe that medicine has a role in improving the health of our communities. It may follow that when we band together and work towards that purpose, we may have better chances of success. It’s a subject for another day, but medicine has a role. It must have a role if the industry is to remain relevant as a social good, otherwise, we might as well all quit and become bankers, because that’s where the real money is.

Don’t get me wrong, I proudly carry the flag of my specialty society, but the fact is that all our specialty societies are somehow vaguely inadequate to the grass roots tasks. Its not just primary care, but all aspects of medicine that are at work in this town, from the anesthesiologist and the gynecological oncologist and the cytogenetic geneticist. We have more impact as a House of Medicine united in this one common mission that we agree on than worrying about turf wars.

And the impact is felt community by community. A truism in epidemiology is that you need large numbers to detect small changes, but it tells you nothing about what happens to individuals. And communities are made up of individuals, states are made up of communities and nations are built on states. It all starts where you live and work and being concerned for the health of your neighbors and the people around you. The health of Clark County depends in a small way on each one of you. The health of Clark County needs you to speak for it and for its concerns.

One aspect that has helped the health of Clark County has been the role of CUP. CCMS has advocated and will continue to advocate on behalf of this local non-profit community-based health plan both because it works for the community’s health and because it is a significant employer. We were concerned with toxic byproducts of a recycling plant and successfully shot it down. At the state, with other medical societies, we helped overturn the rule that emergency rooms wouldn’t be paid if their services were retrospectively judged not to be emergencies. Physicians got involved to work with the DOH and saved them more money than they envisioned by their prior plan. We also fought the B&O tax which no longer applies to physicians in WA. We are now looking at the impact of a coal terminal on our coast as well as the trains have along the route, so we are supporting studies to clarify the impact and publicize our concerns. At the state we have also supported public health nurses working on STD’s, reproductive equity in the state and pushed for medical staff reviews that are not quite so abusive of physicians.

Only here in Clark County can you speak out about our lack of availability of fresh food in a wasteland of fast food. Only in Clark County can you do something about obesity in your community. Only in Clark County can you set up community forums to counter the vaccine objectors’ propaganda that makes us so vulnerable to epidemics IN THIS COUNTY!

I hope you each continue to support the county medical society, I hope you get involved, speak up, be a light for others to follow, be obnoxious if you want, just speak!!! And tell you colleagues about the society. You need to take responsibility for your own “belonging” to a group you believe in. And if the AMA or WSMA or even CCMS does something you disagree with, remember that your voice counts. Without that voice, it’s not surprising the organizations do things that don’t meet with your approval. You won’t win every battle in a democracy, but you will win some/ You will make a difference.