I was blessed in September to be able to attend the 87th annual educational conference of the National Catholic Medical Association in Dallas, Texas. The conference title this year was “Restoring Healthcare in a Technocratic Age: Building Parallel Structures to Deliver Compassionate Care.”
Nearly 600 health care workers, including 350 physicians from all over the country, gathered to hear presentations, share ideas and break bread together. These national CMA meetings are very much like attending a retreat. Every day starts with Mass at 7 a.m., and I was happy and amazed to see that almost every conference attendee was at Mass every single day. We were blessed to have about a dozen priests concelebrate these Masses. There were many priests and sisters attending, with quite a few of the sisters being practicing physicians. Confessions were available to us multiple times per day and there was an adoration chapel set up in a quiet corner of the hotel that was available and attended 24 hours a day.
We discussed how, in some respects, health care is changing for the worse because of technology and the growing bureaucracy largely mandated by governmental regulations. One example is the government-mandated electronic medical record system that has been forced upon the practicing physician. There are certainly positives like accuracy and quicker access to patient’s medical records, but for an obvious negative, just think about your last physician encounter. I suspect the majority of you would confirm that your doctor gazed into the computer screen as he or she asked you questions, rather than looking you in the eye. How can a Christian physician see the face of Christ in his patients when all he sees is the computer screen? Blessed are those Catholic physicians who have remained independent and fought hard not allow some of the newer technologies hinder good compassionate patient care.
I believe that parts of this mandated technology are actually helping destroy the patient-doctor relationship. New regulations and altered payment plans from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies have forced the majority of physician practices into giving up their autonomy and being bought out and owned by large hospital systems. Most physicians are now told how many patients they must see per hour to keep productivity up for their employer.
Earlier this year in Ontario, Canada, a court ruling said that physicians must refer patients for abortion and assisted suicide if the patient requests it. We as physicians have steadfastly believed that this type of referral makes us complicit with the act. The court actually ruled that “equitable access” to health care services is of “sufficient importance to warrant overriding” the right of religious freedom. This ruling shatters the concept of freedom of conscience in Canada and makes us concerned that this could happen right here in the United States in the future.
The Catholic Medical Association leadership has discerned that health care workers need to be politically involved to shape the future of medical care in this country. Therefore, there were talks and discussions about physician-assisted suicide and how we can combat this evil practice at the state level.
We need to be leaders in medicine and practice as authentically Catholic physicians. There has been a dramatic increase in the membership of the CMA over the past decade, in part because Catholic physicians know that we must be united to fight back. The CMA is positioning itself to be more influential both at the state and national level. We must be ready to resist the secular changes that are being forced upon us and even be ready to be persecuted for our beliefs if necessary.
I left the conference with great hope. In the last several years, through the generosity of its members, the CMA has set up a scholarship fund to allow medical students and young physicians in training to come to the national conference for free and help solidify their Catholic values as they prepare to practice medicine. A special annual retreat for medical students and young doctors called “Boot Camp” has been a huge success, in which leading Catholic physicians mentor these young men and women as they prepare to practice medicine in the secular world. The testimonials that I heard from those who had attended boot camp warmed my soul. These young medical professionals are on fire for Jesus and they will contribute greatly to maintaining Catholic teaching and values in patient care in the future.
Catholic health care workers must unite to combat this culture of death that is gaining strength in our society. I invite all providers to consider joining the CMA and to learn more at www.cathmed.org. The next national conference will take place Sept. 26-28, 2019, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee. We hope to have 1,000 people attend as we build fellowship and strategies for the future of health care.
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