Paul DeChant MD, MBA
Peter Valenzuela and Doc-Related
“There are a lot of people out there with opinions about how to address burnout, but there are not a lot of people who are in the trenches experiencing it and talking about how to make their lives better.”
Telling the Hard Truth with Humor
Peter Valenzuela, MD, MBA, CMO for a large medical group in California, shared this thought with me recently. He is also the author of Doc-Related, an online comic strip (I follow on Twitter @Doc_Related), and the recently published book of the same name that points out the foibles and challenges of practicing medicine these days.
I’ve known Peter for a number of years from working as leaders in affiliated medical groups in a large system. He is a humble, insightful, and dedicated physician leader who is committed to reducing burnout for clinicians in his medical group and beyond.
Peter has created a cast of characters who are familiar to clinicians and healthcare administrators alike, ranging from four physicians from all walks and stages of life, to a millennial medical assistant, a beleaguered clinic director, and a somewhat clueless VP of operations.
With this intrepid team, Peter presents 3-panel vignettes that capture the frustrations and ironies that surround clinicians today. He takes on such “stupid stuff” as overbearing prior authorization, 1700 quality metrics, EHRs that suck up time charting details required by regulations and billing, and limitations of the scheduling system, phone system and online portal.
Speaking from Experience . . .
He comes by these insights honestly. He trained in family medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and practiced in rural west Texas for five years doing full-spectrum family medicine, during which time he also got his MBA at Auburn, rounding out his matter of fact, can-do approach with a solid business knowledge base. Since then, he has held leadership positions in four health systems in both academic and community settings and received numerous awards for his contributions.
Through his comics, Peter addresses tough challenges such as how we waste dollars, time, and effort on the administrivia that surrounds patient care, asking how patients and communities could be better served if we devoted those precious resources to things that truly make a difference like housing, education, and social support.
Many physicians work in systems where they have no control over activities that impact the patient experience such as phone systems, scheduling templates, and EHR functionality. And yet, when the frustrated patient finally gets to the doctor, the doctors are the ones apologizing for system failures that they have little control over.
Advocating for Change
How can we change this? Peter recommends having as many people in administrative roles as possible with a clinical background, and having multi-disciplinary teams work together, in the same room, to address these complex problems, instead of staying comfortably in their own siloed area of expertise.
Speaking from my own experience, problems are solved more quickly and effectively when teams of a variety of stakeholders collaborate. In fact, such teams often achieve greater success than they thought possible when they first come together.
Peter wrote his book, Doc-Related: A Physician’s Guide to Fixing Our Ailing Healthcare System, because he sees a lot of books on how hard it is for patients to receive the best care, but doesn’t see many books on how hard it is for physicians to provide the care. “If we can flip the script a bit, perhaps we can create more sympathy and compassion for each other to be able to do what’s best together.”
Here is the link if you’d like to learn more about Peter and his book. If you are involved in healthcare delivery in any role, or have a loved one who is, I highly recommend you add Doc-Related to your bookshelf.