Critical Condition

At Some Point, Can We Please Focus On The Patients?

During several harrowing days with my sick uncle in the hospital last year, I had two epiphanies: First, the hospital system is set up for the hospital, not for the patient. This led to the second epiphany: During my lifetime, almost all of the discussions about health care coming out of Washington have focused on costs, insurance companies, regulations, licensing, doctor training, Medicare, prescription-drug polices, mandates, coverage, and so on, with rarely a thought about what should be the priority: treating the patients. 

I thought maybe from the perspective of doctors and nurses all of it might make more sense, but friends and family in the medical field confirmed that hospitals often lack basic good business practices. Part of this may be because, while being a doctor requires some very impressive skills, those skills do not often overlap with good management abilities (much like attorneys tend to — ahem — not be the most effective managers). I would think that other factors — such as the prevalence of third-party payers, Medicare/Medicaid payments at below-cost, etc., certainly don’t make hospitals any easier to run. 

Health care continues to be front and center in Washington’s debates, but it looks doubtful anything significant is going to happen until after Inauguration Day in January 2013, no matter who wins the election. My hope is that, when we go back to the drawing board on implementing health-care policies, the nation re-orients its focus on patient care. We don’t have hospitals to provide jobs for health-care policy wonks, vice presidents for community affairs, and Medicare social-science research analysts. We have hospitals to treat patients, and would do well to remember that moving forward. 

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