The Cost of Living

Linda Lee, June 2018

A family of six sits huddled in the waiting room, the dim fluorescent lights above them flickering on and off, on and off. The clock on the wall indicates that they have been waiting for four hours now. Their mother is in the surgery room, and her life is in the latex gloved-hands of surgeons crowding around her.

A young woman with tangled hair leans against the counter of the receptionist. Her eyes frantically fly over a stark white document, her pen shaking over the health insurance section. She glances back at her three-year-old son who pauses between heaving coughs to smile in her direction. The receptionist stares at the woman over her glasses and motions to the clipboard impatiently.

At the same time, a clean-cut older man sits in his office. The furniture is well-polished, and his oak desk remains spotless, save for a plain folder in the center. It’s the monthly report from one of the hospitals under his management. With an annoyed sigh, he glares at the low figures and the sharply descending slope of the hospital’s share values. He presses a button on the phone on his desk and utters a terse order. No more costly procedures, and simpler cases that involve prescription medication. Increase the revenue without any drastic increases in cost.

This is the dichotomy that surrounds healthcare. The mission to save lives and improve the well-being of the community is held back by the profit-model and the focus to create a successful business. When human lives are mixed with corporate greed, we start to lose the focus on what healthcare truly means. Patients are not commodities with increasing or decreasing value. Every life weighs the same, whether it’s a child coming in with a cold or a grandfather with terminal cancer.

Who are we to attach a price tag on life? How has it become the norm to turn away those in need? In order to continue, healthcare must be equipped with a sustainable business model as it is necessary for the sake of the field. However, this mentality has begun to corrupt the primary purpose of medicine, and business is threatening to take greater precedence over sustaining life. Before anything else, healthcare is a service, and its identity as a service of helping others is what separates the field from any other corporate institution.

As aspiring doctors, pharmacists, surgeons, nurses, and other future devotees to the industry, we must not lose this identity that connects us. We must not forget the first and foremost mission of healthcare even when bogged down with the logistics and finances of working for a hospital. A doctor or nurse is often the first impression that a patient’s family encounters when entering a hospital, and our faces can be who they depend on for help. More than simply treating a patient, those in healthcare have a responsibility to uphold their hospital’s mission and reassure the pained hearts of the families of patients. This is why we are more than a business. This is what it means to serve others.

Every patient file, every prescription, and every discharge has a story. The cumbersome paperwork accompanying each discharge is a happy ending of a healthy patient, a relieved family, and a better life. The file objectively stating biographical information and physical data may be a patient who resisted going to the hospital because he did not want to burden his family with the medical bills. We cannot understand the scope of every patient’s circumstances, so we must do the next best thing. We must help them all we can and always remember why we choose to follow this field.

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