I recently published a piece on the many tasks we require of our patients. This is something I’ve thought about a lot recently in my own clinical practice, as I’ve watched how many of my older patients struggle with the healthcare system. To summarize:
- The “work” of being a patient (known as treatment burden) is different from the burden of a disease itself. Treatment burden includes traveling to medical visits, undergoing testing, dealing with insurance companies, reconciling different specialist recommendations, adhering to dietary restrictions, etc.;
- Treatment burden is highest among older patients with multiple medical problems, who paradoxically have some of the greatest challenges to completing these tasks;
- The concept of minimally disruptive medicine aims to minimize treatment burden while maximizing health outcomes that matter to patients. Telemedicine is one component of minimally disruptive medicine, but for many older patients it’s far from a panacea;
- There is currently no way to incentivize doctors for minimizing treatment burden, although intuitively it’s a laudable goal.
The high treatment burden in our older patients is a problem without a straightforward fix, but I think the first step is raising awareness about the issue. And as I become more aware of treatment burden, I take small steps to minimize it in my own practice, whether that means coordinating patients’ testing on the same day they see me, or reaching out to other specialists so we’re all on the same page about the care plan. This is far from a solution, but at least it’s a start.
John Dodson is a Cardiologist and Associate Professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.