Physician executive, medical informaticist, ophthalmologist, humorist, harmonicologist and bandleader Sam Bierstock, M.D., is once again a man with a laugh, a song and a mission.
Bierstock, former vice president of medical affairs for information technology vendor Eclipsys, has formed Dr. Sam and the Frivolous Action Blues Band, cut a nine-track CD, "Goin' Bare," and is ready to hit the road with the band for a few laughs and to raise public awareness about the national medical malpractice insurance crisis.
Bierstock's previous musical adventure was as the front man for Dr. Sam and his Managed Care Blues Band, which played the healthcare industry banquet and convention circuit in the mid-1990s.
"We toured in about 40 states and sold about 20,000 CDs in the healthcare industry and got a lot of national PR with it," Bierstock said in a telephone interview today from his home in Delray Beach, Fla. "Goin' Bare" went on sale Monday on Bierstock's Web site, www.managedmusic.com.
When managed care lost its grip as a gatekeeper in the late 1990s and then Sept. 11, 2001, downsized the convention business, Bierstock's first iteration of the band had seen its day. But after 2003, when malpractice insurance premiums soared, leading many physicians in the hardest hit regions and specialties to move or curtail their medical practices, Bierstock saw an opportunity to regroup.
"This time, instead of attacking managed care, I decided we'd tackle malpractice insurance and use this vehicle for humor and to educate the public," he said.
Most people, if you tell them doctors are hurting financially, will shrug you off, the assumption being that all physicians are wealthy, Bierstock said. "But I can write a song and get people to understand the reason you can't have an obstetrician in your community is that they can't afford $150,000 in premiums," he said.
Bierstock uses parody and satire to have fun while driving home a point, and the song titles on the new CD reflect that, including the title track, "Goin' Bare ('Cause I Can't Get No Tail In This Town)," plus "They've Got Deep Pockets, Let's Sue," and "A Ploy Called Counter Sue."
In addition to Bierstock, four of the regulars from the Manage Care Blues Band are back for Frivolous Action. Two new members join them in the seven-piece basic band. All are professional musicians, Bierstock said, including road warriors who have played with the likes of Joe Cocker and Bruce Springstein.
Newcomer, conga drummer Carlos Betiene, who sat in for the CD on "Back Spasm Woman," a parody of the Carlos Santana classic, played with the legendary guitarist for 11 years, Bierstock said.
Bierstock said the idea is to get people talking about the liability issue, particularly now that healthcare information technology is at the forefront of the national healthcare debate.
Bierstock, who came to medicine as a trained electrical engineer, began his career in healthcare IT cobbling together a medical record system for his ophthalmology practice on a 1982 DOS-based IBM personal computer. He left the vendor side of IT this spring, saying he wanted to have an unrestricted voice as IT takes off in the clinical workplace.
Medical malpractice is a case in point. The potential dark side of the coming IT boom is the incredibly detailed tracking capabilities of electronic medical record systems. It's not often discussed in public forums or at trade shows, he said.
"When you're on the vendor side and point to some issues around liability, they don't want to hear it," Bierstock said. "They say it detracts from their ability to sell systems."
But physicians talk to him about their concerns -- in private, Bierstock said. "They would tell me, 'I don't want people timing me how long I took to read an alert.' " That's because what a computer can record, a plaintiff's attorney can obtain through discovery.
"I think it really has to be looked at because were wide open right now and people need to address it," Bierstock said. "It's frightening."