In our quest to continuously improve the nation’s healthcare system, we must not lose sight of all that is right about it.
My daughter, Sarah, is a physician assistant in the cardiothoracic ICU at a hospital in Michigan (and a member of HFMA). Last year, she worked on Christmas Day. It was beyond hectic. Several patients coded at the same time; one required manual cardiac massage at the bedside. Multiple caregivers needed to be in two places at once, literally to save patients’ lives. No exaggeration, it was that dramatic, and I probably only heard a fraction of what really happened.
When Sarah finally arrived at our home for Christmas dinner, she was drained, both physically and emotionally. I was proud of what she had accomplished but also saddened to see the toll it had taken on her.
As I listened to Sarah’s account of her day, I couldn’t help but think about it in the context of the relentless criticism of our country’s healthcare system. Critics — myself included, at times — point to issues such as the growth rate of national healthcare expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product, the persistence of uninsurance and underinsurance issues, the prevalence of patient-unfriendly processes and opaque pricing, and the fragmentation of care.
But the critics tend to forget about the healthcare heroes all around us — the physicians, nurses and other caregivers who put their emotions on the line every day. I’m talking about those, like Sarah, who literally save lives, come home exhausted and feeling like they can’t do it anymore and somehow find the strength to go back into the fray the next day. We forget about the incredible things happening every moment across the entire spectrum of healthcare, until we hear stories like Sarah’s experience last Christmas. Or stories about nurses painstakingly feeding premature babies, who are just developing the strength to actively take nourishment. Stories about those who summon the emotional fortitude to provide hospice care for people in the last stages of advanced cancer. Or stories about the caregiver who wraps her arms around an elderly patient in the memory unit, who cannot remember her own family, and comforts the patient as she would her own grandmother. Or about the everyday heroes in primary care practices who simply take the time to help patients understand the next steps in an anxious journey toward diagnosis.
As we regulate, innovate, transition, improve, criticize and collaborate, let’s not forget the tens of thousands of healthcare heroes like Sarah who are out there. Let’s take a holistic look at our industry. Let’s celebrate the incredible things that happen every day, 365 days a year. Let’s fix the broken parts of our healthcare system, for sure, but without letting them overshadow all the good things.
By the way, about the patient whose heart was manually massaged until its condition could be stabilized in surgery: I don’t know who they are (HIPAA protected) but I know they lived. Yes, I am a very proud papa.