In 2002, the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, the American College of Physicians, and the European Federation of Internal Medicine created “The Charter.” It was meant to remind doctors of their responsibility to be ethical and professional while remaining aware of their responsibility and commitment to the primacy of patient welfare.
In recent years, it seems that there has been an increase in Americans behaving badly. Hate crimes have plagued our nation. General rudeness and lack of respect is more the norm, which begs the question, "what can I do to make a positive impact as a physician?" Gandhi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” One may ask, “How can I, in my own small way, live up to the ethical responsibility of assuring the equitable distribution of resources and promoting equitable healthcare to all?"
Charity begins at home: Ensuring your patients get the care they need
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and still, patients are unable to meet their day-to-day living expenses, let alone medical emergencies.
1. Have the money discussion. Physicians can help their patients receive necessary medical care in many ways. For an example, prescribing a 90-day supply of medicine can help reduce out-of-pocket costs for medications. Scheduling expensive tests for later in the year when annual deductibles have been met will contribute to a substantial cost savings.
2. Provide payment resources. The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation’s Choosing Wisely initiative offers several cost-effective options. There are many organizations, both federal and private that provide assistance for medical and pharmaceutical intervention.
3. Offer a payment plan. Or engage a finance company to facilitate a credit-based offering.
4. If you can afford this option, allow your patients to pay what they can. Or, rather than raising funds to travel to a third-world country to perform volunteer work, set aside monies to treat patients in your practice on a pro bono basis.
Physicians have confirmed that volunteering and performing charitable work are as much a positive for them as it is for the patients they help. Physicians have said of volunteering that, “They don’t have to see a patient every 15 minutes. There are no economics involved, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable." Liz Meszaros, in an article entitled, “Physician Volunteerism: The Surprising Benefits for Doctors Who Do It,” said doctors that “give back” and volunteer have a tendency to live longer, while providing an opportunity to focus on others.
Doctors can volunteer with large well-known organizations such as The American Red Cross. Free clinics are a popular choice and international volunteerism to third world countries, such as the U.S. Peace Corps, is always seeking volunteers.
Social/political involvement to promote fair distribution of care and resources to all
Every physician should be dedicated to social justice and equitable healthcare for all. Physicians are looked to as leaders and are the voices of reason. When in the absence of human rights and liberties and when social strife, racial discrimination, and exploitation of the disadvantaged are causing certain groups and individuals to succumb to disease and death, the profession must step forward to effect change.
Doctors should become intimately involved in their practice communities. Write a monthly letter or email to your local representative on issues that are important to you. Take action to support specific legislative initiatives, especially those that pertain to medical care. Get involved with a group in your community that supports your passion.
Be an example. Practice what you preach.
Physicians have a moral and social obligation to “take care” of mankind. Ryan Van Ramshorst, MD, mentioned in a recent article that a professor on the first day of medical school said to a classroom full of eager students, “Medicine is about service. We are all here to serve others. Our neighbors, our communities, and even complete strangers.”
Do it well.
Gwen Spence is Assistant Vice President, Membership Services for CAP. Questions or comments related to this article should be directed to gspence@CAPphysicians.com.