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The Exam Room's Secret Weapon for Flu Season


Physician author Terry Brenneman, MD, suggests a key difference between a great clinician and an average one, and it has to do with used car sales. Read more.

Terry Brenneman, MD

Terry Brenneman, MD

When I used to precept medical students, I enjoyed asking them, “What makes someone a great doctor as compared to an average doctor?” Their answers were not surprising: “great diagnostician, compassionate, encyclopedic knowledge, stays up to date on latest medical advances, good listener, etc.”

Of course, these are all correct answers. No one ever mentioned what I thought would be the best answer, “the great doctor's patient population has better outcomes than the average physician's does.” This assumes, of course, similar patient populations in terms of age, comorbidities, socioeconomic class, etc, to compare.

And while the attributes mentioned above by the medical students would have a positive impact on patient population outcomes, I think a bigger impact would come from better patient compliance with physician recommendations. Prescribing the best blood pressure medicine for someone with hypertension doesn't do much good if the patient only takes the pills on an intermittent basis. Recommending routine preventive health practices like colonoscopies and annual flu vaccinations are helpful only if the patients follow through. Medicine's dirty little secret is the “great” doctor's method of increasing compliance and will be revealed below.

Let's look at adult flu vaccination rates in 2022. The 65+ age group has, as you might suspect, the highest flu vaccine coverage at about 75%.

In the younger age group, aged 50 to 64 years, what percent received a flu vaccine?

Additional information
Flu vaccination coverage, United States, 2021-22 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed November 8, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-2022estimates.htm#figure6

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