Let’s Actually Talk About Labor This Labor Day (Physician labor to be specific)

Labor Day celebrates the great labor contributions Americans have made to the prosperity, productivity and well-being of our county. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing work performed by our medical doctors. They are some of the most caring, compassionate, hardworking and dedicated people we will ever know. Yet if you had the chance to ask your doctor about their job, you would be surprised at the very fragile nature of the physician-centered healthcare system we currently work within.

At its core, the primary care fee-for-service physician business model still looks a lot like it has for generations. A patient and a doctor agree to meet in an office to diagnose and treat the patient’s ailment. The patient then gives money to the doctor for that service. End of transaction; next patient please…

In my lifetime I have witnessed a dramatic change in this model. Today’s primary care doctor experiences a very different reality.

  • They are no longer independent business operator-owners. Now most doctors are employees of large corporations, with little or no control over most key business decisions.
  • Patient access and healthcare decision making are increasingly dictated by insurance plans, not doctors. – Electronic health records add a tremendous administrative burden without a balancing benefit.
  • Important specialty and diagnostic services for patients are difficult to access. – Rewards and recognition are tied to their productivity, not quality of care.
  • Family nurse practitioners and physician assistants add much value to the system, but create an additional responsibility for mentorship, monitoring and oversight for physicians.
  • They carry a great deal of liability and professional risk for every decision they make or oversee.
  • Medical schools create a crushing amount of personal debt and salary pressure.
  • Patients present earlier in life, with more chronic disease conditions and live longer than ever before.

Oh, and the robots are coming to take their jobs too. Artificial intelligence, advice line chatbots, telemedicine, robotic surgery, treatment and diagnosis are within practical reach in their careers. If Amazon’s Alexa can effectively monitor and respond to your household conversations to pick out when you need more dish soap, it is not hard to imagine how well “Medical-Alexa” will soon solve your chief complaints in an exam room.

It is little wonder why as a healthcare administrator I spend an increasing amount of time planning for, or responding to emergent problems related to physician shortages, burnout, wellness, recruitment, retention and compensation. The survival of my company, and of our healthcare system depends on solving these pressing problems. Yet there are very few tools left to work with in these uncharted times. I can’t change regulations, our resources are very limited and I cannot manufacture more doctors on demand. Most days I feel as if I am standing on the deck of a sinking ship, there are doctors all around me in the water yelling for help and I don’t have any more life rings to throw to them. They are tired of treading water, frustrated at the lack of help and losing hope things will ever improve.

Yet despite the mounting pressure and uncertainty in our industry, Peach Tree’s amazing team of doctors continue to adjust with the times, create new solutions and deliver increasingly high quality care to their patients. I am constantly amazed by their conviction of purpose and deep wells of compassion. This Labor Day, please take a moment to thank your doctor for serving in one of the most difficult jobs in America, while they work hard to preserve and repair our health. It is recognition that is often overlooked, and definitely overdue.

Thank you,

— Greg Stone, Peach Tree CEO