What do physicians have in common with NASCAR racers? What are the 3 essential skills today’s doctors need that don’t have anything to do with medicine? Read this from the New Yorker and find out.

Why is the Republican party no longer a comfortable fit for many doctors? Why do many doctors now support health insurance mandates and no longer care so much about limiting their own liability? Read this from the New York Times and find out.

As an aside, I’m always drawn to articles like these, partially because my paternal grandfather was a physician from the 1930s-1970s, but mostly because my mother was a RN in the 1960s-70s and told me countless nursing stories while I was growing up, which were far more enthralling to me than any story book she could have read to me. I suppose it’s not surprising that while I was in high school I picked up brochures from the guidance counselor’s office about anesthesiologists, oncologists, nursing, EMTs and physician’s assistants and fantasized about those sorts of medical careers. My father worked in insurance and those stories weren’t nearly as interesting, so that wasn’t on my list of things to do when I grew up.

Somewhat ironically, the closest I ever came to working in the medical field was when I worked part-time for an insurance company, of all places, during most of the 1990s. I was a unit leader and helped make sure the claims processors did their job correctly. I was certified as proficient in medical terminology and knew the most common procedure codes and ICD-9 diagnosis codes by heart. If only I had a dime for every 401.9 (hypertension), 250.00 (diabetes mellitus), 311 (depression) or 473.9 (sinusitis) claim I processed. I haven’t worked in that field for more than a decade but still remember many of the numbers and have visions of rattling off such numbers when I’m old and can’t remember the things I did five minutes ago. “Do the doctors think I have 290.20?” I’ll probably repeatedly ask my daughters. ;-)

Anyway, as dry as all that sounds, there were times I was able to glimpse the patient behind the insurance claim. When a claims processor in my unit would come upon a difficult claim that was as thick as a doctoral dissertation, he or she would usually slip into despair because processing that claim would take so much time it would make their speed percentage plummet (claims processors had to maintain high accuracy and speed percentages or, eventually, get demoted to the mail room). As a unit leader I was exempt from maintaining such percentages so I would usually take the claim off his or her hands and process it myself.

There were a few times I discreetly cried while processing those claims because the story the procedure codes and diagnosis codes told was a medical nightmare. I would feel terrible for the patient and his or her family. I carefully read those procedure codes and DX codes as if I was reading a novel. Page after page after page the story unfolded through the numbers. I made sure to process such claims with extreme care so that the claim would be paid correctly and the patient wouldn’t receive an erroneous bill, which would only have added yet more stress to their lives. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to taking care of a patient.

So I can see why the doctor in the New Yorker article I cited above says it’s pit crews today’s patients need. It can’t all fall onto the physician’s shoulders. And as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen said in Kitchen Table Wisdom, “We are all providers of each other’s health… we are all wounded healers of each other. We have earned the wisdom to heal and the ability to care.”

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Filed under: Kitchen Table Wisdom (the book)ReflectionsStories/Storytelling

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