AUBURN, Maine — A family doctor who targeted physicians’ funny bone with a humor magazine for doctors has ceased publication after a 10-year run, freeing him up to sharpen his focus on attacking changes in the health industry that he says come between doctors and their patients.
Dr. Douglas Farrago said physicians are getting steamrolled by drug companies, insurers and medical malpractice lawyers that he says compose a “medical Axis of Evil.”
“There is nobody really pushing back,” Farrago said. “For me, it’s still therapy to do it.”
Farrago started the Placebo Journal to try to provide a laugh in a profession that’s tough in the best of times, even without modern bureaucratic meddling. He found plenty of material from doctors’ daily foibles — the malodorous infections, the funny exam stories, the red tape.
Regular features poked fun at drug reps with “Stupid Pharmaceutical Tricks” as well as narcotic-seeking patients with “Those Darn Narc Seekers.” Other favorites were the “X-ray Files,” featuring unusual X-rays, and fake ads for things like “Indifferex,” a mediocre antidepressant.
Over time, however, Farrago began transitioning from humorist to activist as he railed against bureaucratic organizations that he says are ruining medicine.
His new venture, authenticmedicine.com, aims to restore the notion doctors know what’s best for their patients, not insurers or metric-measurers.
“The mission of this site is to connect us back to the roots of medicine,” said Farrago. “It is about fighting back against those things that are taking us away from the direct care of patients while still pointing out the lunacy and hypocrisy of this job.”
Many of the 10,000-plus former Placebo Journal subscribers support Farrago’s new endeavor.
Dr. John Difini, a neurologist from North Carolina, said physicians have watched their profession “gradually morph from an honorable, respected profession to one being tarnished by an overwhelming, protocol-spewing bureaucracy that is threatening to choke us all.”
The problem for doctors is they’re too busy to push back. So it’s good to have a watchdog like Farrago who’s willing to express what doctors are feeling, Difini said.
“It’s stuff that we’re all going through and the frustrations we’re all dealing with as we’re being told how to practice, told how to prescribe, and pretty much everything is being dictated to us from the insurance companies and from the government,” he said.
Farrago shares Difini’s frustrations.
Modern documentation requirements mean doctors are in danger of spending more time looking at their laptop screens instead of looking into their patients’ eyes, he said. The resulting data is pored over by quality assurance monitors and fraud monitors. These days, administrators outnumber the docs, who’re being second-guessed more than ever, Farrago said.
Through it all, Farrago has maintained his sense of humor while running his family practice in Auburn, where he has more than 2,000 patients.
As for the Placebo Journal, 10 years was long enough, Farrago said. “‘Seinfeld’ went for nine years, so I shouldn’t be ashamed of 10,” he said.