Caveat Emptor: The Real Condition of Medical Care in America

Kristina's been sick, and we've gotten an inside look at some of the ugly inefficiency and dysfunction inherent to the medical establishment in America: An initial incorrect diagnosis that's caused irreparable harm, foot-dragging insurance companies, a primary care physician who is as new to this condition as we are, nurses who think they're smarter than doctors, a specialist who's tried scare tactics and manipulation to get us to do something that wasn't medically necessary, and another specialist -- maybe the only one we trust -- who's four hours away. Tonight we learned that the hospital screwed up the last procedure they did on Kristina, rendering its results useless, and wasting the last ten precious days.

I'm furious, of course. And if you know me, you'll also know that I've been doing a lot of thinking about our medical system. One thing almost everyone agrees upon is that the U.S. healthcare system is dysfunctional. We have a great number of dedicated, skilled medical professionals. We also have a few bad ones. And while the good vastly outnumber the bad, the system within which they all work is broken.

Patients and their families are increasingly left to fend for themselves in a profit-driven, increasingly competitive business. Patient care isn't the driver in this business. Money is. We're fortunate, in that Kristina has health insurance and an advocate who makes up with tenacity what he lacks in skill.

But what happens to the poor, or to those with no close-at-hand advocates? The poor are largely uninsured to begin with, so their financial prospects are dire from the outset of any serious medical issue. They're also largely not as well-educated and well-resourced as we are. They may not recognize poor care when they see it, and they may have a difficult time leveraging the all too frequently encountered reticent and embittered lower-level providers to their advantage.

There are no easy answers to these problems. Most of you won't ever have to deal with the kinds of cascading failures we've seen in the last five weeks. But don't let the fact that you haven't fool you into thinking our medical system's dysfunctions mustn't be addressed sooner, rather than later.