WHEN HEALTHCARE ITSELF IS SICK…
Healthcare isn’t just expensive. It’s ridiculously, even scandalously expensive. But its cost is only one symptom of a more systemic malady.
For all we pay, our healthcare is poorly effective. The World Health Organization rates the United States in thirty-seventh place for quality, between Costa Rica and Slovenia.
And for all its glamorous hi-tech hardware, our healthcare’s lowest-tech aspect, communication, is ragged. We can transplant hearts and re-code genes, but somehow the doctor’s office fails to phone us back or fax a test result across town. Rushed doctors interrupt patients an average of eighteen seconds into their story. Insurance documents are all but unintelligible. More often than not, dying patients are referred to hospices too late to gain full value from those services. In fact, patients’ complaints about their healthcare are hardly ever about its impressive technology, but almost universally about deficient communication.
The once intimate, almost sacred bond between patient and doctor has all but eroded. In the examining room, the doctor’s back faces us while she types into her laptop. A friend told me, “When I was in the hospital I was poked and probed and ultraviolated, but never touched.” We’re not even called “patients” and “doctors” anymore; we’re “consumers” and “providers” of a product called healthcare.
Patients aren’t the only ones injured by this deterioration. Doctors, once independent professionals, have become tightly directed employees of giant medical corporations, insurance companies, and government agencies. A 2012 poll reported that ninety percent of five thousand physicians stated they were unwilling to recommend healthcare as a profession. Look up doctors’ rates of divorce, drug dependence, alcoholism, and other sorrows. Male doctors have a forty percent higher suicide rate than the general population, and female doctors an alarming one hundred thirty percent higher.
That is, the current system is wrong–not only in a medical sense, but a moral one, too. Thus our attempt at reform, consisting only of rearranging healthcare’s finances, will be no more effective than a raincoat against a tsunami.
Authentic healthcare reform will come only from restoration of the patient-doctor relationship. Healing Healthcare explains why this is so and how to accomplish it.