Why Physicians Need a Voice in Public Health Issues

By | February 12, 2019

When discussing the health and wellbeing of those we serve, we must elevate the conversation to include public health matters that affect our patients and society in its entirety. Physician organizations are instrumental in formulating recommendations and supporting health-related social justice. However, these discussions are equally imperative at the individual level, as physician interactions with their patients become increasingly complex.

No doubt, the hesitation at times to discuss socially sensitive issues and their impact on our patients has led to suboptimal conversations. Moreover, at the heart of our vocation is the desire to maintain the patient-physician relationship in addition to keeping a focus on diagnoses and treatment. An open, communicative relationship is paramount to treatment, and without it, essential discussions are possibly lacking. For instance, the possibility of Injury and death as the result of firearms is one such example. Though the literature is quite clear concerning the health-related issues, we tend to avoid leaning in as we worry about the relational nature of our interactions when such a topic fringes on individual rights or has the potential to be political. Hence, we wish to avoid barriers and consequently may omit to discuss details with our patients regarding all the possible implications that could occur to their health and wellness.

As healers, there may also be an unintended bias to focus on issues on hand versus larger, psychosocial topics such as financial health, physical abuse, seatbelt implementation, and gun ownership which can affect an entire population. However, if done appropriately, we have an elevated opportunity to influence the individual and consequently the community. Hence, the art of medicine includes the art of communication and human interactions. Our ability to be factual concerning disease-based issues and the resultant effects allow us to pivot to such models of conversation concerning health issues that fall into realms that are more confrontational. Avoidance is not the answer. Framing the discussion within the context of one’s health and wellness is the solution.

By affecting individuals, we are also indirectly influencing communities; the impact of what is thought to be more of a rights issue to one that can directly tie to individual survivability. Using our relational nature and the bonds we form with those we serve to enhance our ability to improve public health dilemmas is crucial. Actively engaging in such conversations factually and with empathy to the personal ethics and the wishes of those we serve, only then will we empower our relationships to grow.

Keeping all of this in mind it behooves us to embed such ideals in our ongoing growth and within our educational institutions if we genuinely desire to have a more significant impact. Instead of bypassing an opportunity to address items that affect health and wellness that may lead to difficult conversations, let us offer the facts in a life giving so our interactions with our patients don’t just benefit the individual, but also the communities in which we serve.