Monday, April 6, 2009

Are Two Heads Better?

By Richard P. Holm MD

Collaboration is a fancy word, which means two heads are better than one. It's the buzzword that always pops up when physicians are talking about Physician Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs). I believe that the art of collaboration, or knowing when and who to call for help, is about the most important and difficult challenge any PA, NP, or MD faces everyday. 

Take for example the isolated over-busy practitioner who knows a lot about everything, but not enough about the specific problem troubling that individual patient. Hopefully that care provider has enough experience and depth of knowledge to recognize when to ask for help and collaborate with someone who knows more. Two heads can be better than one.

There is another side to that story. Last month Mr. X had a complicated problem and I sent him to the specialist in another community. Before he returned, three other specialists were consulted by the first, each adding another test, and medicine, and expense. I was faxed copies of all these consults, but basically kept out of the loop until the patient returned to my office. Here's a time when the big picture had been lost while focusing on all the tiny parts. Sometimes one head is better than four.

Many experts say that the cost and access problems we have with our health care in the US are because care is so fragmented. All the parts are not speaking to the whole. 

In this time where it is likely major health care reform will occur, we must be very careful to construct a system that would encourage care that starts with a medical home. This would be when one very well trained primary care MD, PA, or NP would know when to refer, when not to refer, and expect a return of responsibility for the patient.
Collaboration is the name of the game.

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