A Plea to Physicians (Our Partners in Wellness)

If you’re involved in the employee side of wellness, you’re aware of the growing trend (for some organizations) to encourage more consistent annual physician visits. The logic is that this is often already covered by insurance, it helps develop a relationship with a personal physician, and it helps move the dial in regards to risk factors and positive health/wellbeing. With that as the backdrop, I have a plea for physicians, who are our partners in helping make a difference: PLEASE don’t waste this opportunity. There are reasons why annual patient physicals are important.

Yesterday, we (again) heard what has become a familiar refrain. Someone made an appointment, took the time to show up and then something like this occurred between the individual and the physician or her staff:

  • Blood pressure – quickly checked immediately upon entering room, often over shirt sleeves and before the individual had even taken a breath or sat down.
  • Healthy habits review – turned meaningless by assumptions that the person would rather get the “you’re fine” than actually address the issue (which may be true in the short term, but then why are we doing the physical in the first place?). Yesterday’s interaction included a question about the use of vegetables and fruits (which are generally recommended at 5-9+ servings/day) by asking “So – do you occasionally throw a little fruits & veggies into your foods?” Occasionally? A little? I suppose if I eat 2 carrots and 1 apple/month, I could answer “yes” and get a reassuring “nice job” from the doctor, but is that the purpose of this process?
  • Specific questions about personal health issues? Sorry – spent too much time on the “healthy” habits review, but there’s always Google, right?
  • Impression coming out of appointment was that as long as you’re not dying, you’re fine. No need for any lifestyle adjustments. See you next year.

We’re not picking on physicians (I promise). Several of us and many of those who become a certified wellness coach have come from working directly in health care and we get it. Schedules are tighter than ever, payments are reduced, expectations are high. It’s a difficult job – a very difficult job. You’re interacting with individuals with life-altering diseases every single day. It’s understandable that when someone comes in who’s apparently healthy (or at least not gasping for air at the moment), it’s easiest just to say “you’re fine – call me if you need anything.”

Unfortunately, the reality (see recent Mayo Clinic Research) is that less than 3% of the American population meet the 4 BASIC healthy lifestyle characteristics (activity levels, healthy diet, non-smoker and body fat %). That means that over 97% of the individuals who walk through the doors to the doctor’s office need (critical) guidance in one of these 4 basic areas. And yes, we understand lecturing doesn’t make it happen and utilizing tools such as motivational interviewing and intrinsic motivation would be optimal. However, they look up to you, and if they’re meeting with you and also speaking with a certified wellness coach, then the combination can really make a difference.

We respect you. We appreciate you. We understand the constraints that are present. But we (and your apparently somewhat healthy patients) really need you. Thanks for making a difference together.

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