How much does your doctor know about health policy and how it impacts you as a patient?
Unfortunately, not enough. Medical students are given little to no knowledge on how policy and politics influence the system we will train and ultimately practice in.
I’ve already written about this a few times, so check out this post on engaging in advocacy as a medical student, this one about integrating health policy in medical school, and this post on how medical schools are failing students on health policy.
There is, of course, already the trouble of teaching all the material for licensing exams, which seems to increase with each passing year. And to add more “soft science” coursework is not what all students are looking for in medical school.
But the irony is that this is a time when physicians are increasingly speaking the language of health policy and public health — value-based care, co-payment, social determinants of health, accountable care organization — and they’re learning it on the job when they already have time and resource constraints.
Physicians are responsible for the vast majority of medical expenditures in our health system — prescriptions, imaging, procedures. We are taught to diagnose and treat. And that thought process can culminate in an exorbitant bill for the patient. Not all expensive procedures, tests, and medications are unnecessary, but some certainly are.
We should not only give students an understanding of Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, but also an appreciation for their role as an advocate for their patients inside and outside of the clinic. We need to have the tools to use our voice on topics like prescription drug prices, access to primary care providers in underserved areas, care transitions, how the legislature impacts vaccination requirements…the list of issues touched by health policy is enormous.
And most medical students are not prepared to confront them — with limited time to explore new opportunities outside the classroom, we cannot expect medical students to learn the health policy system on their own.
That why I created this space – to do my part in bridging the gap between the practice of medicine and the system we exist within. If you stick with me, I’ll have you sounding like a health policy pro in no time.