“What’s going on is more dysfunctional than I imagined in my worst moments,” writes Megan O’Rourke, a young woman who spent years battling an undiagnosed illness. Rourke’s personal experience with the U.S. healthcare system is marked by frustration, but she’s not angry with her doctors. Rather, she’s concerned about the medical profession itself. What Rourke describes as “dysfunctional” is the “corrosive doctor-patient relationship at the heart of our healthcare crisis”.
In an article for The Atlantic, O’Rourke reviews a host of books by disillusioned doctors through the lens of her own experience. Statistically, the American healthcare system is the most expensive in the world. Yet the U.S. ranks last among 11 major industrialized nations in terms of health-related outcomes attributable to medical care. Why is this case? Our healthcare system “invokes ‘patient-centered’ care as a mantra”, O’Rourke notes, but the emphasis on outcomes ignores the importance of the patient experience.
“Ours is a technologically proficient but emotionally deficient and inconsistent medical system,” she writes. Doctors readily order tests on state-of-the-art medical equipment, but don’t have enough time to talk to patients about health-related concerns. Reduced to the role of “technicians”, doctors sacrifice empathy for the sake of efficiency. But don’t blame the doctors, O’Rourke writes. Their power has been “eroded” by insurance companies, national treatment guidelines, and the “hospital bureaucracy” itself.
The solution, she continues, is to “slow down” healthcare and focus more on the doctor-patient relationship itself. Ultimately, the way that patients feel about their medical interactions influences the efficacy of the care that they receive. For doctors, the way that they feel about their work influences the quality of care that they provide. It seems like a win/win solution, but will it heal the heart of the healthcare crisis?
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