Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘AAO’

Smaller, As Time Becomes Shorter

This weekend was spent in Chicago at the annual meeting of men and women with whom I share my day job. As I noted in “Sunday musings…” I’ve been suffering a bit from some sort of degenerative issue in my hip. Traversing the longest indoor “bridge” outside of the Providence airport rental car connector, my discomfort made me think of my Dad and the back pain that grew to consume him as he aged. Mind you, my discomfort is minimal in comparison, and my particular problem is quite amenable to a surgical fix with a high success rate. Still, it made me feel older, and it made me think of my Dad, gone these 3 years.

Below is what I wrote some years ago when I started to notice the changes in Dad.


When did my Dad get so small? Close your eyes. Think of your Dad. What does he look like? How old is he with your eyes closed? He’s younger, isn’t he? And bigger. MUCH bigger.

I spend most of every day in the company of people decades my senior. I’ve watched some of them age over 20 years or so. There are a few with whom I’ve bonded, who I remember and can conjure up an image if asked. I never appreciate the change in size in them, though.

It’s a strange phenomenon. It’s uncomfortable, no? There really IS a physical change that occurs as we age; we really DO shrink physically. No, it’s more than that when you look at your Dad, more than the physical decrease in size, the loss of vigor and all that goes along with it, the stuff I might actually notice in my patients. What makes it so striking when it’s your Dad is that it’s more than just physical, but a diminution in all dimensions and domains including the one inside your head.

He WAS strength when I was a kid. Literally, a rock. Immovable and unshakeable at all times. Unmoved by excuses or explanations when he knew he was right, or if he MIGHT be right. The final arbiter of discipline (“wait ’til your FATHER gets home…”) in a very traditional family, every thing about the guy was just huge.

When did he get so small? It’s almost scary, you know. He was the guy who stood between me and everything that might be dangerous, at least figuratively. At least in my mind. It’s hard to reconcile the guy I just put on a plane back to RI with my Mom, and the guy who’s there–right in front of me–when I close my eyes. So small now, almost frail. That classic love/fear thing now replaced with something more like love/protect. Does he see it, too? How small?

Will I see it, when I’ve become small?

Leading Thoughts

Twice a year I travel for my day job as an ophthalmologist to a large trade show dedicated to a combination of continuing education and commerce. Part of what I do when I am attending these meetings is provide services as a “leader” to the companies that sell stuff to people like me. The term that is used to describe me in this setting is a “Key Opinion Leader”, or KOL.

I used to think this was very impressive, to be a KOL. Frankly, I was very impressed with myself having “achieved” such a presumably lofty status. I’m not so sure about that anymore. Oh sure, I’m still plenty impressed with myself–I am my own biggest fan, and for whatever it’s worth you should be your own biggest fan, too–but as I think a bit more about what it really means to be a KOL it becomes something a bit more of, I dunno, less I guess.

To be a KOL one must certainly be seen by some kind of audience that is moved by your opinion; I get that, and I still get that the mere fact that one has reached a stage in career or status where your opinion is sought is a kind of stamp of “OK’ness”. No question about it, that’s flattering. Dig a little deeper, though, and you begin to realize that perhaps the only reason why your opinion is out there at all in its quest to be key is because it aligns with the worldview of someone who is telling folks what you think. With few exceptions, even in our modern day of enhanced access for the everyman to tell you what he or she thinks, your opinion is only pushed out there if it is key to someone else’s commercial well-being.

Looked at through that prism at least, it’s a little less impressive to be called a KOL, isn’t it?

The goal all along for me here, in my day job, and pretty much everywhere, is to somehow be a Key Thought Leader. To trade in a marketplace of ideas, hopefully contributing at least some degree of refinement to another’s true genius if I’m unable to generate any true genius of my own. This realization, too slow in coming to be called an epiphany but rather disruptive to my worldview nonetheless, has forced me to re-think a big part of my place in the world of ophthalmology.

Are you interested in what I think only because it aligns with your established objectives? Well then, you’d like me to be a KOL for you, someone who will knowingly or unwittingly move only your needle and not mine. That’s called commerce, and it’s a perfectly legitimate exchange for which we can negotiate value.

Or rather are you interested in what I think while you are in the process of creating those objectives? Ah, now, that’s quite a different story, isn’t it? In this case you are really and truly interested in what I actually think as something that has stand-alone value because you’ve yet to even determine what the dial looks like on your meter, yet to even know what moving the needle looks like. In effect what you have done is put my thoughts out in front of your product or service. In the end I might not actually have what it takes to be one, but if do I know where a thought leader stands.

Out front.


The Answer Is…

Alex, the question is: What is the one thing that ASCRS, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, can do for its members that it isn’t already doing?

ASCRS, AAO (American Academy of Ophthalmology), AMA (American Medical Association), and the various and sundry other organizations of letters are all of the same ilk. Each one was founded with the idea that physicians as a general group, and more tightly defined specialist groups, needed some sort of representation. Some sort of trade group that would present our needs and desires to other groups like the government, insurance companies, and the public. You know, someone to take OUR side in a discussion, to support US in a debate.

So, how’s that working out for you, Doctor? How well are your trade organizations doing, you know, carrying the flag, supporting you and your issues, the things that matter to you? Like protecting your relationship with your patients? Protecting you from frivolous lawsuits and the incessant threats that make you add “cover my ass” to every treatment plan? How are they doing taking up the cause of preventing yet another government program from gumming up your day with more useless, purposeless paperwork? How’s all of that going?

Yeah…thought so.

Once upon a time organizations like the AMA stood for something. The AMA in particular was the ethics referee for all physicians, as powerful as a FIFA ref in the World Cup, and frankly just as impervious to outside influences and criticism. To be censured by the AMA was a serious thing, the only thing worse being the loss of your license to practice medicine. Now? Do you remember reading the histories of the eunuchs who waited on the Chinese emperors of antiquity, emasculated and with a veneer of power that they brandished with a flourish. They lived for the intrigue; they thrived on the daily ebb and flow of palace life, content to be AROUND the tables of power, though they were not really AT the table. It’s like that now.

When did it happen? When did this group of “all-powerful” become a collection of empty sacks? It probably started whenever the AMA lost its great battle over its prohibition of advertising, a case of free speech and restraint of trade in which the AMA was thrashed. It’s never been the same since then, just one small defeat after another. Indeed, the very nature of the game was changed at some point, whether it was the advertising defeat or some other tipping point.

I’ve looked very hard, called into play my most powerful google-fu, looking for the answer. Who led us to this point? Could it really have been a Dr. Chamberlin? No…to0 easy…can’t be. It would be just too perfect if the 3+ decades of universal appeasement as the modus operandi for all of the medical alphabet organizations could have been started by someone so named. Nevertheless, appeasement is precisely what organized medicine has all been about for decades.

Surely, if we agree to accept Medicare payment as our payment in full, they will trust us to do what is right for our patients. If we just agree to label our charts with these treatment and billing codes they will assume that we are doing what we say we are doing. Hey, they’re going to pay you a BONUS for faxing your prescriptions with a computer system. Well, you know, a computerized medical record is theoretically best for our tapped out payment system, and if we do everything just like they say there’s a possibility that they might pay a little bit so you’ll lose less money on it. Well, you know, there are some docs who have cheated the system, so we’ll have to accept the “guilty until we can’t find any way to not find you innocent” policy of regulatory enforcement.

Drip…drip…drip…the slow torture of seeing the next drop come…drip…each tiny capitulation labelled as “cooperation for the common good”…drip…the willful, purposeful blindness of the appeasers…drip…well, certainly THIS time they will reward us for being good team players…drip…no lesson ever learned…DRIP.

Well, Dr. Chamberlin, here’s what I’ve learned. It doesn’t work, this appeasement thing. It never does. It’s never enough, all that you’ve given up, all the times you’ve decided that we would “take one for the team.” Appeasement never works because those you wish to appease do not respect you, and because of that they do not respect US, the physicians. Indeed, they view us with barely concealed scorn. It doesn’t matter whether they are Republicans or Democrats, government or private, Aetna or the Blues, they know that you don’t have what it takes to ever take a stand. You don’t know what it is to use leverage, wouldn’t recognize it in your pocket, and would turn away from it if you did.

What to do…what to do? Believe it or not there are still some physicians out there who have neither emptied their (figurative) sacks, nor become so jaded and angry that they can no longer muster the empathy necessary to be a doctor. What should we do? Should we retreat to some nirvana, some mythical place like the mountain hideaway built by John Galt to house those who would traffic in excellence in a world where success is born of merit? Ah, would that we could. The closest that any might come to this is to retire, withdraw their services from the system and become conductors. Or provide their services to all comers for free; that would shake things up. Not many of us can afford to do that, and if we could not many of us are willing to walk away from that which has defined our very beings for so long.

So, what? Well, for me, I have gazed too long on a system built on the cynical abuse heaped on the followers of the appeasers to avoid becoming just a little bit cynical myself. It’s a game, you know? Games have rules and regulations, little battles that can be won even though the war might already be lost. Perhaps an extra patient at the end of the day. A perfect chart with every preferred practice pattern item covered. Who knows? The rules ebb and flow as the alphabet organizations push a little, pull a little. There’s always a game, a little battle, rules to play by, rules to follow, a way to win within the rules today. A cynical approach to a cynical battle, with hopes for no collateral damage. 10 years of that kind of today, and then…

Alex, the answer, apparently, is nothing, because that would be better than what they are doing now.