NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Will Affect Healthcare Reform

December 31, 2002

Most people think doctors breeze through the health care system when illness or accident strikes. After all, they're the ultimate insiders. But the U.S. health system has grown so confounding that even doctors struggle to navigate its increasingly complex and uncertain depths when stricken by a serious illness or accident.

  • "As the baby boom ages, we are going to see more doctors as patients in hospitals, dealing with the paperwork hassles, being discharged from the hospital before they're ready, needing family support, things the rest of the country deals with," says Robert Doherty of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.
  • Such troubles are adding to pressure on the nation's more than 690,000 doctors, already angered by the loss of some of their autonomy and income to managed care -- and as more physicians become patients, they could play a key role in the growing debate over reforming the health system.
  • "What they're seeing in their practices and what they're seeing as patients combined has them frustrated with the system and more interested in talking about change and reform," says Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research and education group.
  • That could be key, because any reform effort that isn't supported by doctors is less likely to be successful.

While there is wide disagreement on what to do, many doctors say something needs to be done.

"The people who work in health care are very familiar with these problems, from both sides of the bed," says Donald Berwick, a physician and president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. "There's a rising tone from professionals and the public saying this is just not what we want."

"The people work well, by and large, but the system often does not," Berwick says in a speech first given in 1999, but published this month by the Commonwealth Fund.

Source: Julie Appleby, "Doctors Find Broken System on Both Sides of the Bed," USA Today, December 26, 2002

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