“Health care policy – patient policy – is being determined by lawyers, businessmen, and people other than those who have had to work on a patient,” said Dr. Calvin Johnson when he spoke at Temple last Thursday.
Johnson, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, visited Ritter Hall to discuss the disparities in the Pennsylvania health care system with members of the Student National Medical Association, and said his main concern dealt with the disconnect between practicing physicians and medical policy makers.
Johnson said he blamed this disconnect on an acceptance in medicine of a defined role for physicians.
This is how managed care, which made doctors into employees, came to replace physicians’ old roles as entrepreneurs, he explained. Johnson himself is the only person who has practiced medicine and is making decisions in Harrisburg about the medical health system in Pennsylvania.
Johnson was an assistant professor of pediatrics at Temple University and a practicing physician at Temple University Children’s Medical Center at the time of his nomination for his governmental position.
“Just seeing patients didn’t give me full satisfaction because certain barriers frustrated me; insurances, scheduling conflicts between departments and chains of command, and I wasn’t in a position to change that. I didn’t like that someone else was making my decisions for me,” Johnson said.
Johnson talked about his experiences prescribing medications for patients only to later discover they had ended up in the emergency room because they were unable to afford the medication they needed. He discussed the frustration of a sick patient sitting in front of him but being unable to provide treatment because of a language barrier. It was incidents like these that led Johnson into policy.
Johnson’s frustrations also centered on a lack of diversity in the medical field.
“Subconscious biases occur every day,” said Johnson, “but we can fix that by making sure there is a larger diversity of people involved in the health care provider field.”
In spite of these frustrations, Johnson continues to work to make the medical field a broader and more efficient one.
“Do not let yourself be defined,” he recommended to students. “If you let folks define you by your major, you risk having yourself put in a box and removing yourself from policy decisions.”
Johnson urged the students to get involved, to find out who represents them in government and to take the initiative to make contact with them.
“We’ve seen what happens when people sit idly by,” Johnson said. “We can’t afford that.”
Megan Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.