"Cultural Competency" and Medical Licensing
The state of New Jersey has passed a law requiring some type of (currently unspecified) "cultural competency" training in order for physicians to maintain their medical licenses.
Consider that in any patient-physician interaction, its success is defined in at least two ways:
- The patient has an improved clinical outcome. That is to say the physician uncovered important clinical data that resulted in optimized medical care. Obviously, this is in most cases the most important value in medicine. It is often referred to as quality of care.
- The patient has a good feeling about the interaction. Perhaps no clinically actionable medical data was gleaned but the patient felt better leaving the office than when he arrived. This may sound trivial but is crucial to the art of healing and is actually the way most patients evaluate their relationships with their doctors. This is also the way in which many, even most doctors evaluate their contributions to society and the pleasure they take in their profession. This parameter is usually called patient satisfaction.
To me, when I read about stories like this, I can't help but think that there is more than a little political correctness involved. Such mandated training sounds good and is obviously easy to support politically. I believe however that all policy decisions, even seemingly benign ones, need to be made scientifically with careful weight applied to both the potential benefits and risks of such decisions.
I'm not a libertarian advocating no government involvement in anything but I do believe that government needs to be on very firm ground regarding a new policy's utility when it promotes that policy no matter how seemingly trivial it is.
I doubt that has been done here. As Medical Society of New Jersey president S. Manzoor Abidi, MD very aptly put it, "You really don't teach people cultural competency in a classroom. You learn it in the lap of your grandmother." If that is true (as I believe) then very little positive impact will come of such legislation.
I also believe that rather than being an inconsequential policy move, there will be some downsides. First of all, such training is not free. I seriously doubt that the state of New Jersey is going to set aside funding for this. Physicians will certainly have to pay for this themselves both in the cost of the courses and in the time lost actually doing the training. Does anyone in the New Jersey legislature care or is this new law simply political window-dressing?
I don't see patients benefiting from this new law. The real beneficiaries will be a few politicians relishing an easy decision that will make them look good to their constituencies and the companies that organize continuing medical education conferences (CME) for a fee.
The other potential downside is in physician satisfaction. This is simply one more case of a regulating body making one more intrusion on the practice of healthcare which is already perhaps the most regulated of all U.S. endeavors. What does such a law do to the psyche of the conscientious, caring physician who already thinks of himself as an advocate for his patients? To go through the arduous, lengthy and expensive training necessary to become a doctor and be treated in such a paternalistic manner is bound to be at least a little demoralizing.
Has anyone reflected on the possibility that physician satisfaction itself might be somehow involved with quality of care and patient satisfaction? Doesn't it make sense that when a physician feels his work is appreciated both by his patients and his community, that may manifest itself in more favorable patient-doctor interactions? I can't prove this but instead state it for purposes of discussion.
In short, I can't support a policy with completely unproven benefits and very real potential risks. Hopefully trends such as this will not spread but given the perceived political benefit, I have my doubts.