Thursday, January 14, 2010
An open letter to consultants
Thank you for agreeing to see my patients. I send them to you with confidence that you can help me in the overall care for them.
While I understand that you had a few extra years of training above me, and certainly have extensive knowledge in the area of your expertise (that is why I send people to you in the first place), I would like to share with you a few important points about our relationship. Understanding these things will help you better care for the patients I send your way and will greatly help me get what I want from the consultations I send to you
I am not a moron. I typically try to anticipate what you will do for the patient and order all appropriate tests before sending them to you. There are almost always has been a number of visits and several tests ordered that may greatly help you in managing the problem for which I send you the patient. When I send you a patient, I typically want a specific question answered. Please ask yourself: "What does Dr. Rob want me to answer?" and answer that question for me.
My patients are not morons. Overall, my patients are very nice and reasonable people. Even those with very strange histories are seldom coming in to simply waste their doctor's time. Rest assured that I won't send you a consult that simply gets a patient off of my hands. Please listen to what they have to say, and if you are confused as to what is expected, please call me and I will explain what I want from you.
You represent me. Please understand that when I refer a patient to you, their experience with you will reflect back on me. I sent them to you for a reason, and if they think you are incompetent or that you are a jerk, it makes me look bad.
These patients consider me as "their doctor," not you. I am the one who is ultimately responsible for their care, not you. If they are dissatisfied with you, they come to me and I will send them somewhere else. I am trying to take care of their medical care as a whole, so please communicate to me what I need to know to better their overall care. You play a very important role, but not the central role in their care. That is my job. Your job is to help me do my job to the best of my abilities
I can send my patients elsewhere. Most of my patients require a referral for them to see you. On top of that, most want to know my opinion of specialists. I essentially have complete control over whether my patients see you or not. This means that a major part of your job is to keep me satisfied. If I don't like the care you give my patients, I will send them to someone who gives me what I want. This is not a veiled threat, it is the reality of the relationship between primary care and specialty physician. I control a portion of your pipeline, so it is good business to keep me happy.
Please be brief. I really don't care about 90% of the stuff you put in your letters. Just answer my question and put it in a letter. I know you have to appease the E/M gods to get paid properly, but I really don't want to read that stuff.
Please communicate. It is useless for me to send patients to you and not get the consult note back. Make sure you get my name right (notes are often sent to the wrong office) and get it to me in a timely fashion. Like it or not, your job is to help me manage the patient, not the reverse. It is no help to have patients see you and not know what went on.
I understand that this is a somewhat odd relationship, since I am paid far less than you and yet am the central player. Truthfully, it galls me a bit that you get triple my income while I play the lead role and you support me in my job. Yet I realize that this is not your fault and that overall you value my role in the health care system. I promise to do what I can to make your job easier. Please help me in my quest to do what is best for my patients.
[This post appeared in Musings of a Distractible Mind in July 2007. Since that time, my frustration with my interaction with specialists has grown, not improved. Our system seems to discourage communication when it should be promoting it.]
Rob Lamberts, ACP Member, writes the blog Musings of a Distractible Mind and is on Twitter. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and was an early adopter of electronic medical records.
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