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If Docs Had More Time, They'd Ask About Patients' Work

clockToday’s New York Times ran an excellent article by Julie Weed titled If All Doctors Had More Time to Listen.  The article puts forth substantive evidence that giving physicians enough time to spend with patients saves healthcare costs in the long run by emphasizing preventive care that cuts emergency room visits and by reducing diagnosis/treatment errors.

I’d like to offer another reason why allowing physicians the time to be thorough is critical to saving healthcare costs. Today’s physicians rarely, if ever, have time to consider the impact of work, and return to work, on patient health. Consider the following points:

  • The “work history” is not usually emphasized as a major component of the history and physical exam, so these considerations are often overlooked
  • There is mounting evidence that the traditional approach to work-related injury — rest and absence from work — is passe, as patients benefit from returning to some form of work as quickly as possible
  • There is a dramatic difference in the approach to specific illnesses depending upon the exact job description and functions

Physicians who have had the time to take a thorough patient history also would have the patient’s work information on record, and would be able to automatically include work history as part of the diagnosis and treatment. There is no question that being able to do so would save on healthcare costs, as recurring medical disabilities are nearly always more severe than the first incidence.

Giving physicians enough time to consider all relevant factors in patient treatment is sound policy. Giving them enough time and encouraging them to ask patients about their work could prevent a great many relapses and more serious health conditions. And that’s good for everyone in the healthcare equation.


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