At 71 years young, Mr. John Eich continues to work part-time as a professional engineer, designing major utility projects in the area. When he is not working, you might find him out riding his bicycle. He exercises 5 days a week to stay fit – though he claims to “not be an athlete.”

One of his personal goals in life is to “stay the heck out of the hospital system” as long as he can. It is that goal that drives Mr. Eich to make healthier choices about the foods he eats, manage stress levels, and maintain an exercise routine. He also credits having a long-term relationship with his primary care physician, Dr. Mark Josephson, as one of the reasons he has stayed so active.

Retiring to Naples

Like many of Collier County’s residents, Mr. John Eich and his wife retired to Naples. Neither one had any chronic conditions, but Mr. Eich and his wife had always worked with a primary care physician (PCP) and considered them to be a part of their healthy lifestyle. Immediately after relocating to the area, Mr. Eich sought to establish a relationship with a new PCP.

Before interviewing physicians, Mr. Eich searched the internet to read profiles and doctor reviews. He knew that he wanted a doctor that prioritized prevention and wellness as a first approach. He also knew that he wanted someone who would speak authentically, without sugarcoating the truth.

“Many of our elderly patients are highly knowledgeable about their health and tech savvy. They are empowered to research their health, chronic conditions, available treatment options, and the cost of the care,” said Dr. David Wilkinson, president of the CCMS board of directors.

In addition to researching physicians on WebMD, Mr. Eich listens to podcasts about our healthcare system. He is highly educated about insurance options, Medicare, and how unnecessary emergency room visits can drive up medical costs for all citizens. Because he comes from a state with multiple teaching hospitals, Mr. Eich has a greater appreciation of the value of physician-patient relationships. He recognizes how individuals contribute to the overall health of a community.

Personal connections are critical to success

While Mr. Eich found positive reviews about Dr. Josephson, he still wanted to make sure they would connect on a personal level so that he could trust his physician had the same values. During his initial visit, he found Dr. Josephson’s direct, authentic approach refreshing.

“We just hit it off and I trust him. Anything Dr. Josephson has ever recommended, I’ve done,” said Mr. Eich.

As a former military doctor, Dr. Josephson has a direct personality. Behind the gruff exterior beats the heart of a true physician that thrives on the building lifelong relationships with his patients. His passion for health began at an early age when he used to attend conferences with his father, who was a chiropractor. Dr. Josephson’s family took a wholistic approach to their health by focusing on eating a healthy diet, exercising consistently, and maintaining a relationship with their primary care physician. Another important lesson he learned from his father was compassion in caring for his patients and taking the time to build relationships.

“My dad was a real strong proponent of the relationship you build with your patient. I still vividly remember him telling me you always strive to treat your patients like you would want a member of your family treated. That is an important core foundation in my relationships with patients,” said Dr. Josephson.

The sentiment of treating patients like family is a philosophy that Dr. Josephson also instills in his nurses, medical assistants, and receptionists. He asks them to think about every step on this journey to health, what if you were standing on the other side of the counter? How would you like to be treated?

Primary care physicians are the gateway to the right specialists

When Mr. Eich moved to Naples, he needed an ophthalmologist, a gastroenterologist, and a dermatologist for routine care. In establishing a relationship with his primary care physician, Mr. Eich was able to gain trusted referrals. While there are hundreds of highly trained specialists in Collier County, PCPs can make more personalized recommendations to make sure there is a good personality fit as well.

Beyond personality, having a PCP with a network of specialist relationships is proven to enhance the continuum of care that patients receive. Through these referral networks, primary care physicians and specialists can gain deeper insights into a patient’s history to either rule out unnecessary procedures or recognize if there is an increased risk factor that the patient overlooks. Additionally, with this shared knowledge, the patient’s primary physician can support follow up screenings and ongoing treatment for chronic conditions.

Some patients need more encouragement

While Mr. Eich and his wife had an inherent respect and trust for the guidance of their PCP, not all patients are the same. Some of them need more encouragement to get the necessary tests. When we asked Dr. Josephson what was one of his greatest patient outcomes was, his face softened as he shared a story about a patient that was being treated for colon cancer.

This patient had gastrointestinal symptoms. With his training and expertise, Dr. Josephson suspected cancer could be a possibility and he recommended she get a colonoscopy. The patient was uncomfortable talking about the procedure and put it off a few times. She continued to have suspicious symptoms, so Dr. Josephson had to be very direct. He told her that he would rather her get the test now than have it develop into a large tumor that required much more extensive treatment.

The colonoscopy confirmed the diagnosis that Dr. Josephson feared, his patient had colon cancer. Fortunately, it was a small mass that was treatable, and her prognosis looked good. When she got her colonoscopy done, it also inspired her husband and son to do the same.

The heart of a physician can impact their health

Physicians are often drawn to medicine because of the joy they get from building lifelong relationships with their patients. Many physicians share in the philosophy of treating their patients like family. It is rewarding to see their extended family have positive outcomes, especially with patients that are committed to living a healthy lifestyle. It is equally painful to go through the difficult times with patients, where compassion and care means telling them what they do not want to hear.

Going through the emotional highs and lows with patients, on top of the normal stressors of long-hours, endless paperwork, and the new normal that the pandemic has brought can take a significant toll on a physician’s health. To support our local physicians, the Collier County Medical Society offers a complimentary wellness program. Through this program, physicians can access confidential mentoring or counseling.

“The health of our community rests in the heart of our physicians, who care for patients day-in and day-out and often neglect their own needs. Part of our mission is to give our physicians the tools and resources to stay healthy physically and mentally,” said Dr. Wilkinson, CCMS board of directors president.