Problems with Medicine: Why It’s Not Working
Medicine is not doing its job. By definition, medicine is “the science of diagnosing, treating, or preventing disease and other damage to the body or mind” (Dictionary.com). This routine, and in some cases emergency care that we expect to receive is becoming compromised in three significant ways. These include professional negligence, an imbalance in the availability of doctors to patients in different regional areas, and frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.
Although America is a country blessed with some of the most advanced and highly developed healthcare available, it cannot provide for all of its citizens. Amazing advancements in technology and health care have taken place over the last few decades, improvements which have increased the ability to save lives, but only some Americans are able to reap the benefits of this growing science. The reasons behind this are that healthcare is supply-based and not need-based, doctors are wasting money by being irresponsible, and lawyers are exploiting every mistake. These detrimental trends are costing the healthcare industry millions of doctors, making the funds needed to provide healthcare to more people unavailable, thereby endangering the lives of millions of patients.
This first factor, professional negligence, encompasses more than just being careless or forgetful. It often includes unnecessary treatment that does nothing to improve the quality of life of a patient. Professional negligence can also include under medicating, or more often overmedicating, drug errors, negative drug interactions, and post-surgical infections, mistakes that are allowed to continue when doctors and nurses are not reprimanded, and are instead paid the same amount, regardless of the quality of their work.
Doctors are not always careless in their own will. The medical field is a challenging and often emotionally-charged battlefield in which nurses and doctors are active players who cannot recover from exhaustion and sickness themselves. They are charged with saving lives for twelve or thirteen hours at a time, one after the other, with few breaks to sorrow the losses. The result of this continual superhuman attempt to play God in continuous repetition is that doctors are tired and emotionally drained, which attributes to the possibility for mistakes, because the mind is not sharp under such harsh conditions.
Another aspect of professional negligence is the lack of communication in many of today’s larger hospitals. Paper filing is an insufficient way of relaying the necessary information about a patient in a timely fashion. A possible improvement would be electronic or computer-based patient files, along with systems to warn doctors or nurses of potential risks, including overdoses and fatal drug interactions. In order to ensure their accuracy, these programs would need to be developed and tested prior to their implementation. This is an essential step that, if successful, could save hundreds of lives by lowering the potential for miscommunication and mistakes.
While many doctors adhere to the obvious standards of washing hands, wearing masks, and sanitizing surgical tools, the art of surgery is not without error. An example is the injury that my mother received during surgery, wherein an I.V. was inserted improperly, injecting proteins into the muscle of her arm instead of into her vein. Another mistake that can occur is the failure to administrate antibiotics within a timeframe that most benefits the patient. One way to avoid such careless errors is to follow a simple-check list and to encourage feedback during procedures, when an error is noticed that could be detrimental to the patient.
The second factor contributing to the lack of quality in healthcare is that some patients are receiving too much care, while others receive none at all. Regional variation is a situation that occurs when a large city has significantly more doctors that its suburb counterpart. As a result, people in the cities may receive a surplus of care, simply because there are more doctors to go around, versus a smaller city, where there are not enough doctors to meet the needs of the population. One possible solution to this problem would be to develop outreach programs and essentially “share” doctors with cities which are not as well staffed.
Another reason that some patients are receiving more care than others is because they can afford the costs. This alarming trend can be seen in the millions of patients on Medicare and Social Security who are forced to choose between either food, or medicine and health care, because they cannot afford both. Health-care reformers need to look at their decisions from another angle, and realize that by improving the quality of medicine, they can make it available for more people, and actually save money.
The final reason that medicine is not working is that death and tragedies, which are a natural and inevitable part of the health care profession, are being exploited by attorneys through frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. As a result, doctors are becoming apprehensive, and either leaving the work they love, or even worse, performing unnecessary tests in an effort to cover all their bases. While careful analysis is beneficial in some cases, often patients are receiving treatments that they do not need. Medicine based on evidence is not always being used, and guinea pig like testing is occurring in hospitals instead of the science lab. The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care study group describes “evidence-based” medicine as practices which are proven to be successful (Brownlee 653). These are the practices that should be utilized, wherein treatments or procedures are used extensively on patients only after the potential for success has been medically and scientifically proven.
When these carefully researched practices are not used, and errors occur, attorneys have an open playing field for lawsuits, some which demoralize healthcare and decrease the quality and performance of medicine. Certainly, doctors who are irresponsible and careless should be punished. What is happening, however, is that educated and meticulous doctors who love their work and perform their jobs well are being punished. Vigilant and heartfelt doctors are watching as their medical malpractice insurance premiums rise, a result of merely being mentioned in a lawsuit, with no regards to whether they were truly at fault or not.
Medical malpractice suits injure patients as well. From personal experience as a former paralegal, I have witnessed the horrors of a personal injury litigation firm, and the injustice that occurs within. While in some instances, the win of a case is truly based on the evidence behind it, most cases are won by social status, wealth, or the emotional tug that an articulate attorney can create. Sadly enough, children can lose mothers and fathers due to medical mistakes and receive no compensation for their pain, while another patient who suffered only a minor infection or an unattractive scar can drive away from the so-called pain and suffering in a Mercedes.
In closing, medicine is simply not working. The reason that healthcare quality has declined is a lack of active participants who will speak out for what is right, and work to destroy the injustices that corrode the system. In order to correct this problem, people must begin to take the necessary steps to lessen mistakes and increase sanitization and communication in hospitals. We must ensure that every citizen can get the care they need, and that there is no excess of medicine that does fundamentally nothing. Finally, people need to stop exploiting an already sensitive system in the name of greed. Only when these three goals are achieved will medicine really be working.