Thoughts on the trustworthiness of the healthcare system

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The media periodically report tragic stories of parents who, for one reason or another, shun the medical system and, as a result, allow their children to either die or endure severe complications.

One such story came out yesterday regarding young parents whose toddler became sick.  Instead of seeking medical attention, they took the advice of a naturopath over the phone.  The child was misdiagnosed and treated with so-called natural remedies despite showing signs of deterioration and lethargy, although at times he appeared to get better.

After a two week period of persistent symptoms, the toddler took a turn for the worse.  By the time the parents brought him to the hospital he had sustained profound, diffuse brain damage.  There is no detail on what his exact diagnosis was, but it stands to reason that the child would have been better off if brought to the hospital or to medical attention much sooner.  The parents are facing criminal charges.

Cases like these are heart-wrenching.  But the analyses and commentaries surrounding them typically focus on the parents and their worldviews, and less attention is placed on other reasons why they might have come to distrust the healthcare system.  No doubt, the parents’ reasons are frequently irrational or unreasonable.  But does that completely exonerate the healthcare industry of any responsibility?

Some food for thought:

…Doctors have a government-granted privilege to practice medicine (a monopoly).  Are there ways in which we might have abused our privilege? (It’s a rhetorical question…)

…Hospitals have put their financial fates in the hands of third-party payers.  Does this put them in conflict with the interest of patients? (Another rhetorical question)

…Leaders in the patient safety movement are fond of calling hospitals “the most dangerous places in the world?” Any possibility this may negatively affect safety perceptions? (I don’t see any mounting pressure to study this question)

…Public health officials seem to easily leap from finding correlation to establishing causation.  Recommendations impacting millions of people often turn out to be wrong.  Do they ever issue mea culpas to regain trust and credibility?  (No need to search for a list of instances…)

There will always be parents who, from unfathomable reasons, choose to needlessly put their children in danger.  That shouldn’t keep us from reflecting on our own shortcomings.

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