Friday, October 14, 2011

Thomas Szasz's "define or be defined" and Physicians morphed in to health care providers

The husband and wife physician writing team of J. Groopman and P. Harztband make strong points in their commentary found in the Perspective section of the October 13,2011 issue of the NEJM. The title is The New Language of Medicine.

They relate certain changes in language related to health care to the movement to industrialize and standardize health care. These changes include the word "consumer" or "customer" for "patient" and lumping doctors,nurses,PAs,and NPs together under the designation of "health care provider".

The relationship and interaction between physician and patient fades out and is minimized by referring to the generic "health care", as if is in the words of the authors " fundamentally a prepacked commodity on a shelf that is "provided" to the "consumer".

What happens to considerations about the physician-patient relationship when you speak about providers and consumers.

Thomas Szasz wrote brilliantly about the power of language.

"The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?...[the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed."

In short, define or be defined. There was a time not long ago when physicians in many ways defined their role.Their role was to act as a fiduciary to their patients,to do no harm and act in the interest of their patient.Now their role is being redefined as in part acting as stewards of resources.Yes, it has been members of the medical profession,largely a small group of internists, who have helped considerably in this effort to redefined medical ethics and have been able to implant those views in the medical school and post graduate curriculum. While I would not impugn the motives and sincerity of those physicians who have promoted that view and value system,I cannot resist applying the venerable Mafia Rule. Follow the money.Who gains from transforming physicians into health care providers and tasking them with saving money for the health care collective?

Their commentary closes with:

"We believe doctors and nurses,and others engaged in care should eschew the use of such terms (consumer,health care provider)that demean patients and professional alike and dangerous neglect the essence of medicine."

Amen.

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