I’ve had a bit of ‘a bee in my bonnet’ this year. I heard that! Ok, arguably it extends a little further back…like my whole career! But if you’ve seen the topics I’ve been speaking on at conferences in recent months, you’ll know exactly the soapbox I’ve climbed up onto.  Inter-professional communication & collaboration. My particular focus (naturally 😉 ) has been current issues regarding the sharing of, and access to, pathology results for our shared-care patients. However, in the face of several distinct threats to the practise of both naturopathy and medicine in Australia of late, especially in the form of anti-collaborative rhetoric/push affecting both professions right now (read PHI reforms, promptly followed by proposed MBA review..if you haven’t read this regressive and repressive set of recommendations you seriously must), the question of how to improve collaboration in order to ultimately serve our patients better, has never been more urgent.

Last week, at the ICCMR conference, I outlined the current barriers for naturopaths to accessing patients’ pathology results (current and historical) and the heightened risks that this results in, either because of incomplete information or because of the subsequent direct pathology referring by naturopaths. Yes, bypassing the GP and another set of trained eyes on your patients labs comes with risks. I also spoke to the opportunities that await us if we can overcome this: in terms of improved patient outcomes, reduced risk, more economically responsible public health budget spending etc. etc. need I go on?!  In the Q & A following my presentation,  a doctor in the audience made two very important contributions, which deserve some additional air…she said:

“Shouldn’t the patient ultimately own their own pathology results?  Then it would be a case of them electing who has access to these: their GP, their naturopath, their osteopath. Rather than the other way around – after all, we are all supposed to be members of their health care team, right?”

She said it.  Not me. But I applaud her. She’s right of course. Right now, under the current proposed changes, we and integrative health care delivery and patients’ right to choose and self-direct their healthcare and public health budgetary burden…are all under threat of de-evolving. Right at the time when, with the current chronic disease burden and predicted public health budget blowouts,  it should be all hands to the pump!  Who has ever conducted a cost-benefit analysis of what integrative health care (successful patient sharing between naturopaths and GPs /specialists) saves the government?  No one is my guess and when I proposed I do exactly this for my PhD on a particular parameter some years back, I was not so subtly told, that in spite of a great application, given the primary funding of the research group was from government, and a clear conflict of interest with the head researcher who was also a government advisor, ” my proposal was not in line with the current directives”.  Yep.

Last week, a dear mentee of mine mentioned that a GP one of her patients sees responded to her respectful correspondence regarding their shared patient with absolute terror, citing possible de-registration if they are seen to be collaborating or interacting with her in any way…assuming the MBA changes go through.  This doctor then decided the lesser risk, was to cease communication with this other key member of the patient’s health care team, not refer the patient for any follow up investigations (including those representative of basic duty of care) and certainly not enable access to any pathology results for this patient from the past or in the future.  My mentee’s exemplary response to this doctor:

“My apologies for placing you in an uncomfortable position. I do understand the restrictions and guidelines GPs must work within for Medicare and AHPRA and understand that as you are the requesting practitioner you are liable for any pathology referred for.  I make this clear to all my patients and that my referrals are on a request base only and it is up to yourself or the requesting GP for the final decision. I only try and request pathology through a GP or other medical practitioner to try and minimise both risks (of only myself viewing these labs) and unnecessary costs to the patient.

…’X’  has currently been seeking medical and alternative treatment for over 2 years and yet has had no change, if not a worsening of his condition and when I saw them 2 weeks ago, it was my understanding that not even basic assessment of full blood count, liver function and other general health markers had been completed. I had advised X that not all pathology may be covered under Medicare, and to come back to me so I could send him privately for those tests not able to be completed under Medicare. My apologies this was not made clear to you at the time of his appointment.

I take pride in my evidence-based approach to nutritional health in my practice, and work frequently with other patients’ medical practitioners in supporting their health. Thank you for your time and I appreciate your thoughts on this matter”

If the patients’ best interests are no longer the primary goal, as decided by bureaucrats, both government and organisational, is it time to ask the actual health professionals to please stand up?! Is it tipi-talk time for practitioners from all disciplines?  Growl over.

Want to ensure you are writing professionally to other health care practitioners?  Then our recording and resource Dear Doctor, is for you!

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