This theme seems to be on many minds. Philip Alper writes an interesting, pithy column on medicine and health care for the Internal Medicine World Report, (unfortunately not available on the web). In his February column, he took up the issue of the intrusion of managers and bureaucrats into practice.
He coined the term "udoos" for those who say "you do this and you do that," "udids," for those who "chillingly remind us that 'you did this and you did that." He noted, "both types are familiar to physicians because authority figures and critics with whom we interact characteristically speak this language."
Further, the managers who must "redress our [physicians'] failures," he termed "udidoos, who offer 'because'-based prescriptions for doing better in the future. Udidoos simultaneously creat guilt and the promise of expiation. Consequent anxiety pushes us to accept the controls of managed care, for example, no matter what doubts we may privately harbor about their utility or effectiveness."
Alper went on to critique The Future of Primary Care, edited by Showstack et al. He took particular exception to a chapter by Mary O'Neill Mundinger, RN, DrPH, Dean of the Columbia University School of Nursing, whom he would apparently would consider a "udidoo." The chapter was entitled "Advanced Practice Nurses: The Preferred Primary Care Providers for the 21st Century."
Mundinger's prescription as a "udidoo" was for advanced practice nurses (APNs) to take over from primary care physicians. As Alper wrote, "the underlying notion is that nurses are better suited than physicians to be primary care providers. There is no attempt at collegiality here. Dr Mundinger has previously written about why nurses should be paid the same as doctors (they get equal results). Now she wants not only to replace the primary physician but also commandeer their title." Alper finally decided,
Maybe the best thing to do is to just laugh. Even gallows humor certainly beats crying - or going crazy.Although I do not have a copy of the book, Mundinger has made similar assertions elsewhere. For example, in Pediatrics,(1) she wrote that physicians should be subservient to nurses (and others) in health care teams, "the disease specialist - the pediatrician - merits leadership of the team only when disease is the major concern. At other times, it may be the nurse practitioner... who directs the team." And she asserted that pediatric nurse practitioners are more competent than some physicians in caring for children: "it is questionable that non-pediatric physicians are more qualified to care for children than pediatric nurse practitioners. Education for non-pediatric physicians is often limited to 1-month clerkships in pediatric medicine during the third year of medical school." Furthermore, she claimed these nurse practitioners spend five times as much time in pediatric training than do family physicians.
In a review article in Academic Medicine,(2) Mundinger claimed "APNs - whose advanced primary care is delivered with full accountability and is indistinguishable from such care delivered by physicians - offer a different style of practice, which involves caring, nurturing, support, engagement with patients, attention to illness prevention and health promotion, and patient education."
Mundinger was the lead author of the study that claimed outcomes of patients seen by nurse practitioners in ambulatory settings were comparable to those seen by primary care physicians.(3) The study received wide attention, although its external validity was questioned.(4)
Mundinger's advocacy of nurse practitioners as substitutes for and superiors to physicians is helpful for the managed care organizations Alper criticized. Nurse practitioner care currently costs less than physician care. Although physicians have not always loudly expressed their doubts about managed care, as Alper noted above, nurses are not likely to be more vocal.
But while I read Alper's commentary, and then Mundinger's writing, a small voice in my head reminded me that I had just seen her name before. But where?
Ah yes, it was here. A while back, we commented on the irony that Donna Shalalaw, living the good life as president of the University of Miami, was as on the board of directors of UnitedHealth Group, a large commercial managed care organization whose public mission includes making health care more "affordable," while the University of Miami's outsourced maintenance workers, including those who worked at its medical center, had no medical insurance.
On the roster of UnitedHealth Group's board of directors also was the name of Mary O'Neill Mundinger DrPH. She has been on the board since 1997. If one goes to the Columbia University School of Nursing web-site, Dr Mundinger's biographical page does include her directorships (of Welch Allyn, Gentiva Health Systems, Cell Therapeutics as well as UnitedHealth Group). However, none of the articles cited below(1-3) mention her seemingly important conflict of interest. And Dr Alper informed me he saw nothing about it in the book chapter she wrote that he critiqued.
Thus, she has had a fiduciary duty to UnitedHealth Group and its stock-holders since 1997. And it would clearly seem to be in the interest of UnitedHealth Group to reduce its costs by paying for more care by nurse practitioners, and less by physicians. So how much of Mundinger's advocacy of advanced practice nurses to replace physicians is based on her academic work, and how much is based on her duties to UnitedHealth? I cannot tell.
But readers of her work up to now would never have thought of this question, unless they fortuitously had learned about her responsibilities to UnitedHealth from some other source.
In summary, it seems that the more one looks, the more examples one finds of leaders of academic health care organizations who also are directors of health care companies. Yet these often influential figures have not always revealed their conflicts when writing about health care, even when their works relate to the interests of the companies whose interests they are legally bound to protect. So how much of their influential work reflects their professional and academic research and beliefs, and how much reflects their fiduciary responsibilities to commercial organizations? Inquiring minds really want to know.
1. Mundinger MO. Toward a quality workforce. Pediatrics 2003; 112: 416-418.
2. Mundinger MO. Twenty-first century primary care: new partnerships between doctors and nurses. Acad Med 2002; 77: 776-780.
3. Mundinger MO et al. Primary care outcomes in patients treated by nurse practitioners or physicians: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2000; 283:59-68.
4. Sox HC. Independent primary care practice by nurse practitioners. JAMA 2000;283:106-108.