Has health care lost its humanity?

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As doctors, most of us went into medicine with a true desire to help other people. What was once a noble profession is now being worn down by outside forces trying to control us. Third-party insurance companies are driven by profits, not by optimal care of patients. Politicians are driven by their own political agendas and party alliances without even acknowledging the real problems existing in the health care system.

Most clinicians struggle against these forces to do the best for our patients. But the battle is fierce as we are often hindered in getting patients the diagnostic tests and medications they need. We know this is very frustrating for patients, but imagine if you are the provider and have to fight this same war for hundreds of patients every month. It is very easy, although still very wrong, to understand how we become jaded and submit to being the cog-in-the wheel that so many people are trying to turn us into.

This point was very much driven into me as I sat in the ER with a family member who was in a car accident recently. She was brought in by ambulance on a stretcher but then asked to sit in the waiting room because there were no beds. And then she was asked to wait some more because there were still no beds. She was denied pain medications because they said she needed diagnostic tests first to determine if there was anything seriously wrong with her. And then she was asked to wait some more. After about 90 minutes of sitting in pain and feeling light-headed, the nurse finally popped out and called her name. When I explained she was unable to walk, the nurse replied that her chart stated that she was ambulatory at the scene. When I told her to look at the patient, she finally did and then ran to get the wheelchair because she saw how much pain this patient was in. The remainder of the ER visit passed in extreme technological efficiency, with little empathy given to the patient. It horrified me to realize this is the typical experience of a multitude of patients every day. A little humanity would have been nice.

Over the past month, I saw two breast cancer patients who had to stop their chemopreventative medications because they had a lapse in their insurance coverage. Both women were frightened that cancer would return because they had to pause their treatment. No consideration was given to what might happen to them when their insurance lapsed, due to “paperwork” issues. There was no opportunity to expedite the process of getting the insurance reinstated. They were expected to do without if they couldn’t afford the medications, and everyone knows the cost of most are highly unaffordable these days.

A mother recently started crying in front of me when she learned the insurance company wouldn’t cover any asthma inhalers for her child. These third-party employees didn’t care that the child had a potentially life-threatening illness. The needed medication was not on their formulary, and there was no convincing them otherwise.

Hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, start-ups with cool apps, and many more are all trying to profit off the health care system. They don’t see the suffering of the patients and their loved ones but rather just dollar signs. Doctors can fight for their patients’ medical care, but often, these pleas fall on deaf ears. Has health care lost its humanity? In many cases, yes, as these huge companies push for bigger profits with little thought of patients’ health. Doctors and nurses care, but there is only so much we can do. But, we need to continue advocating for our patients, no matter how futile it may seem. The day we give up and become minions of the system is the day patients lose all hope. We need to stand side-by-side with patients and take back the system and return its humanity.

Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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