As Americans, we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world. Outwardly, many of our citizens seem to possess the necessities of life: shelter, food, job employment, and world-class health care. But what happens when we take a closer look? Do we see cracks in the foundation?
If we are honest, the answer is a resounding yes. When one looks at the area of health care, there is cause for concern and action.
Let’s start with the cost of prescription drugs. “Americans spend more on prescription drugs — average costs are about $1,300 per person per year — more than anyone else in the world.” Many people struggle to have enough money to pay for prescriptions and other necessities of living. And so, to stretch dollars, individuals cut medication doses in half, spread out the frequency of taking medications, or simply don’t take them at all. As a result, the individual’s health suffers.
At the same time, pharmaceutical companies state that they must increase prescription costs so that they can continue drug research. But where does this all end? It’s like the proverbial “dog trying to catch its tail, ” never coming to a resolution. The insured person has seen increases in the copayment prices of generic drugs; the cost of drugs still under patent protection literally will bring a patient to his knees. Also, the cost of acquiring health insurance has increased substantially in recent years, and pity the person who finds himself without health insurance and is facing a life-threatening illness.
In August, President Biden signed a bill that attempts to make some inroads into the high cost of prescription drugs. Due to prior political wrangling to get the bill passed by Congress, aspects of the original bill were pared away. But I guess something is better than nothing. For many, the struggle to make ends meet will continue.
Let’s take a look behind the curtains of corporate medicine. Many doctor-owned primary care offices have been absorbed by corporate health care systems over the past several years. Under the guise of lowering costs for the physician while at the same time offering that physician a sense of protection under the corporate umbrella, many individual practices no longer exist. The physician’s sense of autonomy and control of how they practice medicine has been severely impinged upon. The mode of care for patients is often dictated by the regulations espoused by the corporate health care systems, governmental regulations, or regulations put in place by insurance companies. Those in administrative boardrooms have largely ignored the voices of doctors and nurses.
Assignment of non-medical tasks to qualified clerical staff rather than the physician has often been ignored. And so, a physician scrambles through the day seeing his patients and completing all related chart work and paperwork, often long into the night.
Frustration and stress have led to burnout among the very best in our medical professions and in others who serve on the frontlines of health care. And so, the “huge boulder of corporate health care” continues to roll across the backs of those who have taken oaths to tend to the sick and dying.
So what impact does all of the aforementioned have upon the patient? Upon entering an exam room, the patient is usually allocated approximately 12-15 minutes to describe his symptoms to his physician, who then formulates a diagnosis and prescribes a method of care. Some situations are certainly not that “cut and dry” and require the physician to run passed his scheduled time with the patient, causing a “rolling snowball effect” on those patients waiting in the schedule to see that same physician. This means stress on the physician and the patient and potentially less than optimum care given to the patient.
As patients, we want to have the ability to tell our health stories to our physicians, not to feel that we are merely data but rather individuals who have come to seek solutions to our health problems.
It seems that corporate health care systems are forever expanding — new acquisitions and new construction. New construction often is relegated to those aspects of health care that bring in the biggest bucks, like surgical and cardiovascular suites.
I am not saying that these areas are not important, but let’s keep everything in perspective. Since primary care is the foundation of most individuals’ health care, why not invest in securing adequate staffing and structure to house primary care practices where “first impressions” are formed?
Our physicians and nurses have been told that positive change will come, but it takes time. My question is, how long must they wait before visible signs of positive change appear? More and more patients are “falling through the cracks” in health care, and more and more physicians and nurses are leaving their professions. Is our system of corporate health care based upon untruths?
There is a Latin phrase, “Dum spiro, spero.”Translated, it means, “While I breathe, I hope.”
This phrase gives me the hope to face my medical issues and that needed and necessary changes to our health care system will come to be.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com