For three months your child has been in intensive care. You spend every night by her side with trembling hands and a mental list of promises. Morning breaks, you return home, and there sits a stack of letters on your porch. It’s a few layers higher than it’d been the previous morning. A physical testament to an ever-increasing debt.
This is a harsh reality that so many people face when interacting with the U.S. healthcare system. A survey performed by Bankrate in 2020 found that nearly 1 in 3 Americans avoided professional medical care for fear of the costs.
Marcy, a diabetes patient from Wisconsin, was forced to choose between two essentials, “It had come to a matter of me deciding to continue to pay my car insurance or drop the car insurance so I could afford my insulin.”
With the average healthcare experience running Americans roughly double the amount compared to similarly developed countries, one would expect significantly better care. However, this disparity isn’t represented by improved services or medications, but primarily by the difference in pricing between nations. This means that the same prescribed drugs, administration costs, and medical procedures are charged at a premium to those who grace the fifty states.
This premium pricing results in a process that incentivizes prescriptions and unnecessary testing. While sophisticated machinery and procedures are life-saving assets, American medical institutions utilize those options at a far greater rate than many other high-income countries. It’s suggested that these are “just to be on the safe side” measures, but oftentimes do little outside of spiking an already outrageous hospital bill. Little habits like these are ingrained into our healthcare system and negatively affect a patient’s life both inside and outside the hospital sliding doors.
Understanding the modern healthcare system begins with digging up its roots. Kristin Celello, Chair of the History Department at Queens College, tells the story of how the industry grew from midwives and home remedies to the titanic powerhouse that services a population numbering in the hundreds of millions. However, the trail it blazed wasn’t a clean one. Beginning with the sacrifice of compassion for efficiency, it has led to a system that trades sicknesses of the body for sicknesses of wealth.
The access to wealth is a driving motif of the documentary’s message just as it is a driving factor in the varying levels of health inequities between patients. A patient’s socioeconomic status is determined from a list of explicit or implicit biases designed to uncover the level of care they can afford. Therein lies the issue. That care is determined by measurements outside of simply asking oneself, ‘What does this human being need to be healthy again?’
This model creates a hierarchy between people and leads to poor patient experiences. Denied requests, proper attention, and even basic sympathy can be left out of the care equation as human beings are reduced to numbers following a dollar sign. This harms groups that are biologically or genetically likely to require medical resources including: women, minorities, and disabled persons.
A 2018 report from USA Today found that the U.S. has among the highest risk to delivering mothers to experience deadly or near-death injuries. Not for unpreventable reasons, but due to skipped safety procedures such as failure to track blood loss.
Humanizing Healthcare digs deeper into the specifics of how this implicit, hierarchical guideline made its way into the medical field. A history of unethical practices and withheld rights by the very same industry have categorized certain groups as lesser than.
Fighting back against these biases, or even figuring out how to, is a difficult task. Loren Deutsch, Executive Director at Loren Academic Services, states that the human element needs to be better integrated into the curriculum at medical schools. This doesn’t mean roping the already struggling and stressed med students into a new class. Instead, Deutsch believes that the principle should be a constant presence in how subjects are approached and instructed upon.
Outside of the medical field, Richard Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, suggests pressuring lawmakers to act. He references the successes of past legislatures in pushing American healthcare in the right direction.
“The affordable care act got enacted in part because all over the country there were groups that got people to come out and tell their stories and tell their stories into video cameras.”
Through the testimonies of hundreds, of thousands, the struggles of the everyday person were shared, and real change followed. Statistics are raw and oftentimes insufficient to move people into action. It is the human experience backing those numbers that push a population.
Humanizing Healthcare is a snapshot of the plights of the modern patient. With a variety of conditions and situations, you get a proper look at the different faces of our healthcare system.