A friend told me, “When I was in the hospital I was poked and probed and ultraviolated, but never touched.”
A quirky statement, but one widely agreed upon. For many of us, healthcare has become too impersonal. We’re not even called “patients” and “doctors” anymore as much as “consumers” and “providers” of the product healthcare. This semi-sacred, intimate service has largely decayed into a detached business transaction intended to repair molecular derangement. In this atmosphere, human suffering is all but invisible.
If patients are disturbed at this loss, doctors are positively devastated. Firmly trained as objective scientists, they learn to disregard emotions, including their own. Immersed daily in their patients’ suffering, they absorb it but observe a professional taboo against emoting. If you don’t believe that’s unhealthy, look up doctors’ rates of divorce, drug dependence, alcoholism, and other sorrows. Male doctors have a forty percent higher suicide rate than the general population, and female doctors an alarming one hundred thirty percent higher.
American healthcare’s economics are unsustainable. No matter how we shuffle the numbers—via the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), a single-payer plan, or our current non-system—we’ll careen toward bankruptcy, for the economics express a deeper problem: our healthcare style itself is unsustainable. Since illness is deeply personal, for both sick people and healers, addressing it commercially is not only inefficient, but harmful to everyone involved. We need a style that treats suffering as well as physiology: healthcare as though people matter.
Interested? Read The Bedside Manifesto.