I understand that there is a difference between perception and reality. I also get that the kind of people one meets on a tropical vacation in the middle of March are of a certain economic and sociopolitical status.
Nonetheless, I am amazed at how history seems to repeat itself. Year after year, while sitting in the shade and relaxing by the pool, I strike up a conversation with the vacationers sitting on either side of me. The conversation starts innocently enough. We talk about the details of our trips and about the kids. More times than not, they are from Canada. We bristle at the cold we left behind, and lament that these trips can only last so long.
Maybe we talk about politics or economics. Eventually, however, they ask what I do for a living. After a knowing glance, the litany of questions begins. They inquire about my specialty and other assorted details of my day to day life. We chat for awhile before I get embarrassed at all the attention, and try to steer the conversation in a different direction.
But here’s the kicker. Just when I am about to successfully move to another subject, they go out of their way to stop me and say how great the American medical system is. They declare Canadian health care to be horrible. They deplore the hospitals. They claim that getting into the doctor’s office takes months for routine visits, and weeks for emergencies.
And they all have these stories. I can’t tell you how many harrowing recollections I have heard of racing some child, parent, or loved one over the border to the U.S. when they couldn’t receive adequate care at home. Upon crossing country lines, they checked into the nearest hospital mecca, and were lavished with top-ranked medical care that literally solved all their problems.
I was as incredulous as you the first time I heard this kind of story. By now, three or four times later, I can almost say the words before they are uttered out of my new friend’s mouth. Is there some hyperbole? Probably.
The fact remains, though, that a healthy part of the population is unhappy with the care they are receiving. In fact, many of them are paying extra concierge-like fees for services that are expected as bare minimum in the United States.
When I tell these Canadians that the political winds are changing and that the goal is for our system to eventually be a lot more like theirs, they shake their heads.
It’s a shame they say.
A damn shame.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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