DLW is an occasional blog about how people spend the time of their lives (every moment) to enable health, balance, meaning and fulfillment. As a blogspot about doing, it draws from personal stories and from studies of everyday living. It's main idea is that to be well, people must be involved fully in what they do. The activities that occupy our days help to connect us to the world, define who we are, and keep us healthy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What makes a good health care experience?

With the fast appointment, and equally sudden withdrawal of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, what had been growing momentum behind long overdue health care reform was derailed, and we hope only temporarily sidetracked. Daschle, a veteran of Congress and one who had experienced many attempts at health care reform, was viewed as a very solid and informed choice for the post. Those who have read his book, know that he is an advocate for practical and doable change, recognizing that what many see as the ultimate destination, a single payer system, may require some interim steps. His plan would amalgamate existing government care programs, require that everyone be covered with affordable insurance for a basic level of health care services, and remove politics from decision making by creating a federal health board with confirmed appointees (like the Federal Reserve Board) to oversee the system.

Personally, while some of Daschle's plan characteristics have merit, I am a proponent of going for the whole enchilada now and proposing a single payer system to get rid of greedy profit motivated health insurance companies now. Why allow profit at the expense of health and life? And why spend even one more penny on marketing, advertising or competition when the money can and should go to delivering care and prevention?

Let's do what we have to do now to make the system affordable, accessible, fair, accountable, universal, portable, and responsible. By responsible, I mean a system that devotes resources to health promotion and prevention, a system that aims to promote well-being rather than just ameliorate disease after it has occurred, and a system that recognizes that responsible lifestyle change is more than half the battle in keeping people well. Health is related to happiness and happiness is related, inextricably, to doing what makes life worth living, with those we love, and in supportive communities. Beyond these basic philosophical changes, why not pay providers more for keeping their patients healthy? Rewarding them for listening to and counseling their patients about lifestyle (not just exercise and nutrition) might also be a nice addition.

Think about your idea of a good healthcare experience. I have had primary care delivered by angels and by robots. By people who listened and believed I knew my own body, and those who were so focused on arriving at a diagnosis, (or getting to their next appointment) that they cared little about my experience of illness. Incredibly, the Washington Post had an article recently about an Ethiopian-born physician who is also a novelist (Abraham Verghese) who proposes that medical schools teach their students about the importance of the life stories of their patients. This advice is, on the one hand, good news— and on the other, incredible in its acknowledgment that medical curricula are woefully out of touch. I doubt it is coincidental that my favorite primary care practitioners are physicians who were first trained as nurses, pharmacists or therapists. In fairness to medical schools, (not that any is really warranted) it is incredibly difficult to change the curriculum in a medical school, even a smidgeon.

So, what characteristics do you think make for a good health care encounter? Share them here, and perhaps a medical educator or two who believes in the importance of the humanities will stop by and take note.


  1. Anonymous2/23/2009

    Personally, I think you were too hard on medical schools. There is so much to teach, and educators have a big challenge trying to meet their accreditation requirements, deal with much more diverse groups of students, and (often) work with hospitals and clinics to deliver care to uninsured patients.

  2. Anonymous2/23/2009

    I too have had great patient encounters and those that were not so good. I'd have to say that "good chemistry" makes for a good health care experience, in the sense that if you trust the provider to make the right decisions (and do your homework), good things can happen.

  3. Anonymous2/23/2009

    Thanks for the comments about non-physician providers. PA (physician assistants) and FNP (family nurse practitioners) do an excellent job of providing primary care and it has been my experience that they are trained to listen well. Also, studies show they can provide excellent and competent attention for 90% of primary care needs.


About Me

I am a writer, lifelong student, former academic and new blogger. My passion continues to be everyday living. I am interested in what people do, how, when and why they do it, and what it means for their their understanding of the world and hence, their well being.