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New medical society president values relationship between doctor, patient | TribLIVE.com
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New medical society president values relationship between doctor, patient

John Santa
| Monday, March 28, 2016 9:00 p.m
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Dr. Lawrence John is a family physician at UPMC St. Margaret and president of the Allegheny County Medical Society.

After more than three decades practicing family medicine, nothing is more valuable to Dr. Lawrence John than the relationships he has forged with his patients.

He counts among them people he started treating when he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1977 and five generations of a family.

“The doctor-patient relationship is one of the greatest relationships people can have in life,” said Dr. John, a family doctor at UPMC St. Margaret near Waterworks Mall and Aspinwall. “The richer and fuller it is, the more rewarding it is for the patient and the doctors, and the more fulfilling it is in trying to help people out.”

Dr. John is the new president of the Allegheny County Medical Society, the oldest and most active group of doctors in Western Pennsylvania. At 66, he knows medicine today is not the same as when he became interested in the field as a young man growing up in Uniontown.

Medicine today is about convenience. It’s about walk-in clinics and urgent care centers. It’s about speed. And those are aspects that can have advantages — but also many disadvantages, he told me.

“I call it McMedicine,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

We live in an age in which we don’t care who examines the strained knee or the bee sting, as long as it’s fast and you can go back to your busy life as soon as possible. Some hospitals and urgent care centers, intent on staying on top of patient satisfaction, post wait times online or deliver them via smartphone apps.

Dr. John lamented that some of today’s doctors can check your ears using online apps and prescribe medications without being in the same room as the patient. Convenient? Sure. But there’s no small talk, no connection, no discussion about other important aspects of the patient’s health. Instead, the focus is on the technology.

“I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it dilutes the doctor-patient relationship,” Dr. John said, emphasizing that he is not necessarily against technology.

The relationship is further watered-down by our reliance on the Internet for medical information. We no longer need to see a doctor to get information, we just Google it. And that, too, has its drawbacks.

“Sometimes a little information can be dangerous and, without the background, experience and knowledge, sometimes it can be misinterpreted,” John said. He said he simply believes in having a strong bond with a family doctor.

Dr. John told me one of the reasons he is happy to be leading the medical society is to make sure young doctors recognize the importance of a solid doctor-patient relationship. He wants them to know that the society provides support at a time when many of them have overwhelming schedules, school debt and family responsibilities.

What I respect about physicians like Dr. John is that they’re in the field not to treat a disease but to treat a person. His passion goes back to his days as team doctor for the Fox Chapel Area School District, where he attended home and away games for 25 years and administered about 300 physicals a year. His own children practically grew up on the football field. He says it was a nice way to introduce them to athletics.

As I see it, it was also a great way to introduce them to the qualities of a good doctor: character and dedication.

Luis Fábregas is Deputy Managing Editor for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at (412) 320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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