Every minute spent caring for Texans is a minute that matters

During the Texas legislative session now underway, lawmakers will make thousands of choices. Some of those decisions will directly shape the future of Texas health care, including how and who offers care to patients and what roles various parties play within the healthcare system.

Decisions in Austin and in Washington that affect the lives of Texans cannot be made in a vacuum. Medical advice must inform medical decisions of any kind to prevent known and unexpected consequences. The Texas Medical Association (TMA), with more than 50,000 members, proudly stands for all Texas physicians and our patients. For answers and advice, turn to TMA.

I have spent years training and dedicating my life’s work to something about which I am incredibly passionate. My physician colleagues and I are committed to caring for the people of Texas — our patients. Every minute we spend with a patient is an effort to improve health, heal a wound or, in some cases, save a life. These minutes matter. Our patients are at the heart of every decision we make. It’s an honor and a privilege to be invited into their lives.

I see all types of patients — young and old, rich and poor, of all races and religions. But the time I spend with them is under increasing pressure. Today, physicians spend almost twice as much time completing forms and clicking check boxes as we do seeing patients, according to a 2016 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine. Further, the study found that only 27 percent of physicians’ time is spent on direct clinical face time with patients and 49.2 percent of our time on required electronic health records and other desk work.

Growing state and federal government regulations and insurance company mandates directly affect the practice of medicine. Doctors are left frustrated and with our hands tied as we try to adhere to new compliance orders, many of which were designed by people who have never studied medicine. Most of these decrees directly reduce the time we can spend with our patients.

Sadly, this shift is affecting the level of care we can provide. The Physicians Foundation recently found that 79 percent of doctors believe that external factors are affecting the quality of care their patients receive. Outside interference like electronic health records, narrowing of in-network insurance options, and Medicaid’s endless paperwork are just a few of these outside forces. I see a very real risk of a practice in which we are required to be focused on the computer, of physicians typing and clicking instead of listening and observing our patients.

Far too many of these new regulations came without the insights and lessons learned by those of us who examine patients and work in operating rooms every day. Every time I look into a patient’s eyes, I am reminded that process, paperwork, and politics should never come before or steal any of the time I spend with them.

In the months ahead, as lawmakers make complex decisions about the state budget, insurance law and public health, I ask them to remember that those choices shape the practice of medicine and impact our patients — their constituents. As a Texas physician, I will continue to advocate for what is best for my patients, ensuring that we are placing them at the heart of every decision that is made and that we are doing everything we can to preserve the patient-doctor relationship — preserving those precious minutes that matter. My hope is that, together, we advance what is in the best interest of improving health care for all Texans. Lives depend on it.

Texas Medical Association is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 50,000 physician and medical student members. Based in Austin, TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

Don R. Read, MD, Texas Medical Association

Don R. Read, MD is the President of Texas Medical Association