Category Archives: the business of health care

HEALING PEOPLE, NOT PATIENTS

Creating Authentic Relationships in Modern Healthcare.

In HEALING PEOPLE,NOT PATIENTS Dr. Weinkle describes ways he believes the current healthcare system in our country  fails to meet the needs of both patients and physicians. Reading it, I thought of a new television medical drama in which a determined, idealistic young doctor fights a bureaucratic system to care for  disenfranchised patients. Critics call the show unrealistic, but if they read Dr. Weinkle’s book, they may decide it’s not so far fetched.

The author,  Jonathan Weinkle, M.D. , FAAP

Dr. Weinkle practices primary care medicine at Squirrel Hill Health Center, a federally qualified health clinic in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He  serves as Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also attended medical school. He lives with his wife and three sons.

Dr. Weinkle contacted me after reading  my review of a book by Dr. Danielle Ofri. He asked if I would consider reading and reviewing his book also.  I agreed, and he provided a complimentary PDF copy.

Pitchwerks podcast - #115:Dr. Jonathan Weinkle
Dr. Weinkle’s podcast


Why our healthcare system is broken

One problem, he says,  is the EHR -electronic health record, which doesn’t allow him to express himself the way he would like. He prefers to


open a patient’s (paper) chart,(so it) tells me a story about the patient much like he might tell himself, almost as if I am reading a medical memoir

Although he calls this book  a “how to”- how to restore the sacredness of the doctor-patient relationship– it also  reads like the “medical memoir” he prefers for a patient. It’s his memoir, a telling of his journey from a  medical student entering the “adventure” of medicine to a graduate physician who believes


“Practicing medicine is a privilege, a gift- a sacred trust.

He illustrates several issues plaguing modern medicine using anecdotes about patients from his practice (with details changed to preserve privacy and confidentiality). Our current medical system sabotages   healing by

  • Fractured communication
  • Muddled priorities, where paper work takes precedence over patients
  • Procedures valued over counselling
  • Volume incentivized over value
  • Turning humans in pain into consumers, “as if they were buying televisions”

A turning point and lesson learned

A couple of months into medical school, Dr. Weinkle interviewed a distressed patient in acute alcohol withdrawal. He tried to develop empathy for the man as he unraveled  his long history of alcohol abuse and explored his reasons for trying to quit.

However,as he proceeded to examine the patient, his empathy evaporated when the man rolled up his sleeve for a blood pressure check- revealing a huge tattoo of a Nazi swastika.

Dr. Weinkle is Jewish.


“I am not a vindictive person, but all I could think was, “Well, it serves him right. This is poetic justice.”

He excused himself, never telling his preceptor how ill it (the tattoo)  made him feel, or the malicious thoughts it triggered in his mind.

In HEALING PEOPLE, NOT PATIENTS, Dr. Weinkle explains how he learned to change those kinds of encounters into ones with


Open, honest communication, mutual respect, and shared purpose, even when systemic problems push them into adversarial positions.

But it’s not easy.


even when everyone has the best of intentions,
building a covenantal relationship in the current healthcare system is about as easy as
building a house on the Carolina coast and not having it destroyed by a hurricane.

a male doctor talking to a middle aged woman
Photo by Dr. Weinkle’s son, used by permission

How to fix our healthcare system

One way he makes it happen is by working in a Federally Qualified Health Center, FQHC.

A FQHC is the closest thing we in the U.S. have to “socialized medicine.” Dr. Weinkle has worked in one for 10 years. As he describes it, in a FQHC

Anyone who is a stranger to the healthcare system, who has to clear high barriers in order to access care, should be welcomed in and have help knocking down those barriers.

Most doctors  concentrate on helping patients manage acute and chronic disease and try to address the major causes of disease and death -smoking, poor eating, lack of exercise, stress, sleep deprivation, substance use, and obesity. But doctors like Dr. Weinkle tackle other challenges , the “social determinants” of health. These include

  • Inadequate houses or homelessness
  • Lack of reliable transportatin
  • Unsafe neighborhoods
  • Food Deserts, where healthy food is unavailable
  • Language, ethnic, or cultural differences
  • Discrimination and/or exclusion
  • Unemployment, low wages, and/or poverty
  • Limited education and/or education opportunity

His patient panel consists of people who are

  • Refugees, who often speak little or no English
  • Members of ethnic minorities, including African Americans and Hispanics
  • LGBTQ persons
  • People who are mentally ill and/or developmentally challenged
  • People with stigmatizing illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS
  • People with substance abuse
  • People who have been incarcerated


Dr. Weinkle feels at home taking care of them because

“I come from a long line of people who have been strangers in a long line of places. We are supposed to understand how it feels to be shut out, demonized, misunderstood, or simply ignored.”

Since I finished residency many years ago,  I have had limited experience treating these types of patients, but enough that I understand the challenge, frustration, and sometimes satisfaction of doing so. Non medical professionals may be surprised by Dr. Weinkle’s descriptions of dealing with patients who are often unable or unwilling to cooperate with even basic healthcare steps.  

American medical care has transformed in the past 50 years but most of us wish it still worked like in the “good old days. As Dr. Weinkle describes it


most doctors were solo practitioners who did everything, and a patient, especially in a smaller town, could expect care that felt like home.
Continuity throughout their life… and accompanying them through
old age.
Presence wherever and whenever it was needed, in the middle of the night,

Unfortunately, medicine in the 21st century doesn’t look like that because


There are too many different kinds of care,… and too many demands on a doctor’s time to enable this kind of practice ..


Hospital privileges, insurance credentialing,

and the simple fact that doctors have belatedly learned that we can’t work 168-hour weeks and maintain our own health and family relationships

prevent us from being like our favorite docs of yesteryear.

Dr. Weinkle’s practice uses the concept of a “medical home”, often called the patient centered medical home, PCMH, which many medical offices are adopting, not just FQHC. But it is especially important with patient groups like the ones he and his colleagues care for.

(The concept of PCMH is explained here Defining the PCMH )

He takes it one step further, writing we need more than medical homes, we need medical communities, where doctors work closely with their local hospitals, ERs, pharmacies, and schools to address patients’ needs.

a male doctor examining a smiling baby girl
Dr. Weinkle’s baby girl patient seems to be enjoying her visit. Photo by the girl’s father, used here by permission. When posted on Facebook, this photo received 4000 likes in one week.

The solution- covenant health care

In HEALING PEOPLE, NOT PATIENTS Dr. Wrinkle argues for creating authentic relationships in modern healthcare by  

Promoting health behavior change without insulting or scaring patients, by learning what obstacles they face and helping to resolve them

Honesty about disease outcomes, especially at the end of life; avoiding futile care, and recognizing that sometimes death is not a complication but is the ultimate outcome of some illnesses

“Activated patients”  determined to get better,  to do something about their illnesses, becoming experts on their diagnoses

Doctors and patients valuing and respecting each other’s time and knowledge

Cutting waste- eliminating those things we do in healthcare that don’t add value to care, making it safer or more effective; bureaucratic policies, procedures, and rules that waste both time and money, like prior authorizations, “utilization review”, and 15 minute appointments

Medical education that includes teaching interpersonal skills, with learning objectives given as much importance and time as other medical skills,

Ultimately, Dr. Weinkle wants to see medical care return to being


meetings between two human beings, together forming a covenant to achieve healing

That concept is partially born out of Dr. Weinkle’s Jewish roots discussed in the Appendix- Being a Nice Jewish Doctor

“God forms a covenant—many covenants, actually, sealing the promises with symbols like rainbows (Genesis 9:13), circumcision (Genesis 17:10), and stone tablets engraved with the law (Exodus 24:12).

Image from Lightstock.com, stock photo site, affiliate link

The essence of the Jewish faith, the place where a Jew’s worth as a person is tested most thoroughly, is in the relationship with God—and the parallel relationship with other human beings made in God’s image. ”  


Why you should read HEALING PEOPLE

Health care professionals will find Dr. Weinkle’s concepts an attractive alternative to “burnout”, an encouragement to remember why we entered the profession in the first place, and a challenge to restore the personal touch that makes medicine truly an art.

Patients will find explanations about why medical care is at times fragmented, uncoordinated, and unproductive, will understand the challenge that their own physicians face in providing effective care, and understand how they can be part of the solution.


The book concludes with  an extensive list of Notes listing the references used in each chapter and an exhaustive list of References and Suggested Readings, a few of which I will include below.

Here is a link to Dr. Weinkle’s website where you can read excerpts from the book.

Healers Who Listen

An unexpected connection

You may recognize Dr. Weinkle’s practice location as one that was recently in the news.

a building with sign-Squirrel Hill Health Center

Squirrel Hill is considered a historic center for Jewish life in Pittsburgh. It is home to more than a quarter of Jewish households in the Pittsburgh-area, according to a Brandeis University study of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community.

This is also the Pittsburgh  neighborhood where a gunman walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people on October 27, 2018.

I had only exchanged one email with Dr. Weinkle so it wasn’t until a few days later that I made the connection. I wrote to him and was relieved to learn he was safe.  He had attended a Bat Mitzvah there just the week before the attack. Some of the victims were friends and colleagues.

I will tell you more about that in an upcoming post.

Suggested resources

Here are a few of Dr. Weinkle’s recommendations; please note these are affiliate links which help me fund this blog.

Thanks for joining me to meet Dr. Weinkle and review his book. Please follow Watercress Words to learn more about him and his work, as we explore and share the HEART of health.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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Welcome new citizens to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Health Care

Recently I attended a Naturalization Ceremony, my first ever. Forty people from 15 different countries met all the requirements to become citizens of the United States.

The ceremony was solemn but joyful with a local high school choir singing “Music to My Soul” as the whole audience clapped along. The Oath of Allegiance that I’m sharing with you here is sobering . Judge Michael said that we natural born citizens should take it to heart also.

Naturalization Ceremony
front page of the program

Oath of Allegiance
the oath of allegiance

In honor of my new fellow citizens, I’m sharing a post I wrote about the American healthcare system-not perfect, but one we can “support and defend” with pride.

Every year on July 4th we celebrate Independence Day- the day the original 13 American colonies established an independent country.

They subsequently established a government, military, educational system, highway system, public works, and a healthcare system.

We Americans may pride ourselves on not having “socialized” medicine or “national healthcare”, but we do have  a health care system that is a combination of public and private funding and administration. And even private healthcare must comply with a myriad of local, state, and federal laws and regulations.

I believe we have one of the best healthcare systems in the world  because of the people who work in healthcare- the people who devote years to education and training and who work tirelessly 365 days a year, 24 hours a day to make and keep us well.  Their commitment, compassion, dedication and competence benefits all of us and deserves our gratitude.

Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty lifting her torch in New York harbor

According to recent statistics, the United States government accounts for-

40% of healthcare  spending

$1.3 trillion /year

Covering 100 million individuals

Through 4 federal agencies

Department of Health and Human Services 

Department of Defense

Veterans Administration

Department  of Homeland Security

(JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), June 21, 2016)

Healthcare for active duty military and veterans

During the American Revolution the fledgling government extended health care benefits to the soldiers and veterans of that war; that system evolved into the current military health care system which covers service members and the Veterans’ Administration system for veterans.

a Veterans Administration clinic a Veterans Administration clinic (photo by Dr. Aletha
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan American soldiers serving in Afghanistan

Healthcare for civilians

Under President Barack Obama, Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 to guarantee basic health insurance to all citizens. Newly elected President Donald Trump vowed to “repeal and replace” this law while some changes have been made, it is still in force.

Two other government healthcare programs- Medicare and Medicaid are over 50 years old.

Medicaid provides insurance coverage for adults and children who are unemployed or low income.

Medicare covers disabled children and adults  and persons 65 years and older.

The numbers are rather staggering.

  • Together these programs cover at least 30% of Americans.
  • Together they comprise 25% of all federal spending.
  • Together they pay 40% of total U.S. health care spending.

An infographic from the Kaiser Family Foundation and JAMA explains this further.

You may not be eligible for either of these programs now, but chances are eventually you or someone close to you will.

  • Anyone can become disabled from a serious illness or freak accident.
  • You or your spouse may lose your job and your employer sponsored health insurance.
  • Your child may have a disability that will prevent them from working when they grow up.
  • We may all live long enough to qualify for Medicare on the basis of age alone.  Your parents or grandparents are near or already at Medicare age.

ELDERLY COUPLE -189282_1280
Senior adults age 65 and older use Medicare.

It’s important to understand how Medicare works, since it’s not automatic; even if you qualify, you need to sign up to be covered (with a few exceptions). The rules are summarized here. Or consider an  easy to understand book.  

Government healthcare administration –The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Several government agencies regulate, monitor,  promote and/or support both public and private healthcare (most but not all of these are under HHS.) 

Food and Drug Administration- FDA

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- CDC

National Institutes of Health- NIH

Occupational Safety and Health administration-OSHA

Drug Enforcement Agency-DEA

medication capsules
The FDA regulates the development and sale of medications and medical devices and the DEA regulates dangerous and controlled drugs.

Important Federal Healthcare Laws

The Affordable Care Act- ACA

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-HIPPA

Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act- EMTALA

Health Information Technology  for Economic and Clinical Health- HITECH

Americans with Disabilities Act-ADA

Family Medical Leave Act-FMLA

Liberty Bell -replica
replica of the Liberty Bell at Disney World, Florida

The origin of United States healthcare

In the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States created a nation based on the “self-evident truths”  of  “Life ,Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and to promote “Safety and Happiness” . 

In the Constitution they vowed to “promote the general Welfare” .

I wonder if they envisioned their new government would spend so much time and money providing and regulating health care –

most of which was not available or even imagined at that time? 

Let’s celebrate!

woman holding a sprakler
Let’s celebrate ! This photo and featured image from stock photo site- Lightstock.com (affiliate)

Dr. Aletha 

a woman in a red, white, and blue shirt
Me, a few years ago, showing my patriotic spirit by posing in red, white, and blue