From a Corporate Council Roundtable Member

Hans T. Zuckerman, DO
Division Chief, Schuylkill County & Kulpmont; Geisinger Community Medicine

A couple weeks ago I was at the presidential invocation for the Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association and saw a physician whom I’d run into occasionally. We had been to some of the same meetings, but not formally met. I went up and introduced myself, and we ended up part of the last cohort to be ushered out. It was a pleasant surprise two days later when I learned he was selected as the new dean of my alma mater.

When informed of the dean selection I asked myself the question: What would I tell a college of osteopathic medicine dean about developing the physicians of the future? What should I have said, had I known? All family physicians have an answer to this. I’m confident those reading this immediately have several topics spring to mind. I believe the most crucial contribution we can make for students and young physicians today is establishing a clear, solid definition of what it truly means to be an osteopathic physician. There are too many soft, semi-ambiguous explanations these days. We need to nail it down, hard and unmistakable, for our students and ourselves.

Some osteopathic physicians claim we focus on the whole person, not just the disease. However, this claim is frequently applied to many other healthcare practitioners. Allow me to propose an alternative: an osteopathic physician strives to deliver the highest quality care to the entire population.

Medicine is rapidly evolving. I’m a member of a health system committed to leading in quality and innovation. Our focus on quality isn’t an individual metric, it is something the entire system must embrace. With health system expansion comes the opportunity to be more present in patients’ lives. Technology has opened up communication between physicians and patients like never before: patients can access their own health information, receive care remotely, and communicate quickly and more frequently with their physicians. As the health industry lurches towards a quality-based model, it is critical that osteopathic schools prepare our students for the paradigm shift.

Every graduating osteopathic physician should enter the workforce with the mission to enhance the health of not just their patients, but the entire patient population. And the word “health” is important: it requires a comprehensive approach irrespective of whether we are in primary care or a specialty. With the widespread availability and enhancements of electronic records, it is now quick and easy to ensure patients are adhering to the necessary checklists to maximize their health.

In the last year we’ve moved down this pathway. We’ve expanded the availability of flu shots to all clinics, all specialties. Every office offers and administers flu shots to any patient in need. As you may imagine, this initially resulted in some apprehension, but within a matter of months many specialists adapted these discussions into the routine of a patient visit. All physicians need to be willing and prepared to engage in these discussions. Every physician must take on the duty to advocate for a patient’s health. Every patient, every time. If a patient needs a flu shot, you give them a flu shot. We should push on and add more discussion points: colon/breast/cervical cancer screenings, blood pressure screening, and more. Every time a patient is seen by a physician, they should expect to have their health needs addressed. This is what a high-functioning physician, and system, looks like.

Our osteopathic students need to graduate with this mindset, providing a clear distinction between themselves and their counterparts. Imagine what an incredible impact we could have on the health of our population if each physician was proactive in encouraging better health. We used to say we embrace the whole person. Times have changed. We have the ability to do more now than we ever have before, and we need to do better. We need to embrace the whole population. Every one of us should envision a future where we’ve minimized disease, costs, and the amount of care required while maximizing health. Achieving a healthy population will take all of us getting out of our silos and working together.

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