Putting the Care Back in Healthcare

By Jason Menard

If Hippocrates was alive today, he’d be greatly ailed by the state of our health care system. Of course, good luck on him for actually finding a doctor that would treat him.

Healthcare in this country has rapidly deteriorated to the point where the concept of a house call is little more than a quaint memory – akin to a Normal Rockwell painting hanging on the wall. Care and compassion have been replaced by productivity, efficiency, and billable visits.

Healthcare is extinct and in its place has risen the concept of Health Management. And we have no one but ourselves as patients to blame for this devolution of care.

We have deified our medical professionals. We have come to accept their judgments as the final authority, to be accepted without question. Our great failing is that we no longer look at doctors as humans, with their own frailties, trials, and tribulations.

Due to one person’s wish to get to their destination just a little quicker, my wife and I have been deeply immersed in all aspects of the health management system. And we have seen the best and the worst. We have seen great displays of compassion, caring, and adherence to the basic ideals that Hippocrates set out when he crafted his oath.

Yet those qualities have not been displayed by those with the letters M.D. after their name. Rather, it has fallen to practitioners of so-called alternative medicine to fill in the gaps. They, the chiropractors and physiotherapists, are the ones who now display the bedside manner so often lacking in our coolly efficient doctors. They are the ones who understand that a caring ear attuned to our frustrations is just as therapeutic as any prescription that can be written. Yet many continue to write them off as quacks and opportunists, despite the fact that they’ve made a commitment to caring for their patients.

Recently I attended a seminar presented by an insurance broker who explained that, in order to maximize profitability, doctors and other medical professionals ascribe to a five-minute window of treatment. Three minutes of face time, followed by two minutes of paper work. Many of us have walked into a doctor’s office to be greeted by signs indicating that only one issue will be dealt with per appointment. Any other concerns must be addressed in another, billable, appointment. The situation has deteriorated to the point where new doctors in the region where I live have the audacity to make potential patients apply for their services.

These doctors should feel shame! They should apply for the right to treat us! When it comes to my health and life, I should have the right to choose amongst my doctors for the one who gives the best care – not just be forced to take whatever table scraps are left, and to be thankful for it.

Doctors have a difficult job, I understand that. Especially in this region of southwestern Ontario, they are overwhelmed by work, dealing with funding cut-backs, and stressed beyond imagination.

But could part of that stress come from a lack of enjoyment in their job? There is no longer the sense of familial relations that we once shared with our doctors. The personalized care, understanding, and knowledge have been replaced with the medical equivalent of working on a factory line. It has become repetitive, productivity-driven, and – most importantly – soulless. One would hope that the majority of people were called to the medical profession because of a desire to help people – not just line their pocketbooks. So can this new age of medicine truly be fulfilling?

Louis Lasagna, the academic dean of medicine at Tufts University in 1964, penned the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath. In it he said, “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care for the sick.”

Yet, more often than not, patients are made to feel like they are nothing more than the sum of the numbers on their health care card. We are a necessary, but unwanted, imposition upon the lives of those to whom we turn for help.

We need to change the focus back from health management to health care. We need to work with our medical professionals to petition the government for more funding to ensure that we have a system of which we can be proud. The focus has to be on quality of care, not on quantity of care. Our doctors must feel able to spend more time with a needy patient, rather than watching the seconds tick by on their watches.

Most importantly, as patients we must demand to be treated as humans, not just numbers.

The modern Hippocratic Oath ends with the phrase, “may I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”

To experience joy, one must have a soul. Our medical system needs to find it.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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