Patients want a healthy and respected relationship with their physicians. For physicians, this involves creating a human bond, being transparent about options, active listening and building trust. As physicians, we should be aware of implicit biases. As an immigrant whose race is often confused with either Hispanic or Black or Asian, treating my patients as though they are my family is easy because they welcome me as one of their own. My Caucasian patients’ bond with me through shared experiences about our football or other sports teams at our alma maters.
During Covid, as the deadly pandemic thrust patients, physicians, and payers headfirst onto virtual platforms, one of my patients who was hospitalized told me that my “virtual face” was the most human since everyone within the hospital who saw him looked like a space age astronaut and he could not even see their eyes. My smiling “zoom” face was the friendliest in the room.
Unfortunately, the pandemic created uneven experiences for many Americans and highlighted health inequities. The pandemic’s unequal toll on underrepresented communities, front line workers, and those living in rural communities showed us that we were not as disaster prepared as we had believed.
There were some silver linings in that telemedicine allowed us to provide basic care and digital tools may help ease physician’s burdens. Also, there was a significant relief in complex regulatory burdens for physicians. The big question is how society will learn from this experience to keep what’s worked and fix what didn’t work.
I have had the good fortune of working with very smart physician and other professional leaders within Boards and Committees to help solve these challenges. For example, within the AMA Council on Medical Service, we developed a report on “Hospital at Home” and other models to help patients recuperate at home rather than remain in a hospital – and technologic advances have helped us monitor these patients remotely. Unfortunately, this highlighted health equity issues since socially disadvantaged populations may not be able to benefit from this. Another report concentrated on maternal mortality issues with evidence-based recommendations to help decrease maternal mortality and morbidity.