April 19, 2010

STEVE CHAPMAN: Give non-physicians more freedom to help patients.

UPDATE: Physician reader Tim Johnson isn’t buying it:

I saw your link to the article calling for more “non-doctors.” As a physician and person with common sense, this is ludicrous. Doctors aren’t valuable for knowing how to deal with the normal. Anyone can google “How to treat a headache”. Docs are valuable because they are trained for years to know when something isn’t normal. 1 in 100 patients doesn’t have a headache. Instead he has a brain tumor, a bleed, or even a parasite from Mexico. I agree that non-physicians are great for the 99 of 100 patients. But it sucks if you’re the 1. But when we’re discussing socialized medicine, those 99 are more valuable than the 1.

My sister-in-law spent a semester last year in France. She had to go to a pharmacist for a “sprained ankle”. The pharmacist gave her a cream. When she went back, he gave her some pain pills. Finally, on the third try, she got an X-Ray which showed a fracture requiring a cast. But those three pharmacist visits sure were cheap.

Good point — though, alas, I’ve had plenty of similar experiences with physicians. It took them months to diagnose Helen’s heart attack, for example, even in the face of atypical EKG readings that the expert system flagged as post-MI. They just saw a slim, athletic woman in her mid-thirties and ruled out a heart attack.

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