I've been following a number of distinct disease communities on Twitter, many of which are frequented by tweeps having two or more chronic conditions that must be managed simultaneously, and members of the #Rheum community are a good example (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis plus Sjorgrens disease). I myself have more than a single chronic health condition, which requires the skill of Nick Walenda to negotiate.
The Tinetti et al. article mentions the putative role accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes may be expected to play in coordinating wellness in a Obamacare society. Care coordination for individuals with multiple chronic conditions, aka 'multimorbidity', might be best achieved with a generalist:
"When a single disease dominates a patient's health problems, a specialist may be the optimal primary decision maker8 (eg, an oncologist is the logical primary decision maker for patients with cancer undergoing aggressive cancer therapy). Most often, a generalist with expertise and experience in caring for complex patients with multiple chronic conditions may be best equipped to supervise care that requires integrating across all conditions within the context of each patient's health goals and priorities."
But, the authors go on to say:
"The term generalist fails to capture the breadth of skills and expertise required. A term such as comprehensivist, which better conveys the nature of caring for patients with multiple chronic conditions, is needed."
As my colleagues and I at Upstate Medical University proceed with curricular change to bring our medical education system into alignment with 21st century knowledge and tools (see, for example, previous posts here and here), this might be a good time to ask, "is their a compelling case for 'comprehensivist' as a new, formal medical specialty in 21st century clinical care?"
The focus of a comprehesivist would be to master connections among all other specialties and disease systems. In molecular terms, this has become called "network medicine" (more on this topic later). Equipped with a firm understanding of genomics as well as pharmacogenomics, plus specialty training with "Watson, IBM's hot new outboard brain", you'd have the makings of a 21st century Marcus Welby, MD. Indeed, this might be the type of doctor every undergrad pre-med aspires to, and the type of doc that patients relate to most. It might ultimately replace the now under-appreciated primary care physician. It might even be assumed that a comprehensivist would be the most specialized of all specialties, and thus command the greatest respect and compensation of all medical specialties.
What say you? Should we start training budding docs now for a comprehensivist specialty? Are patients themselves ready for such an approach?