“No Child Left Behind” Meets “No Patient Left Behind”

Reader Contribution by Staff

My mother is brilliant. We were comparing recent frustrating experiences with doctors one evening when Mom, a 4th grade teacher, had an idea: The United States should do away with our current healthcare system and replace it with one similar to No Child Left Behind (called No Patient Left Behind), in which physicians are held personally accountable for the continued well-being of their patients. 

Think about it: the industry’s focus would immediately be yanked away from the myriad pharmaceuticals (and their accompanying unethical incentives), and redirected to the task at hand, which is finding the most effective solution to whatever is ailing the patient. Doctors would reduce their list of patients to a number that allows them to give each the time and attention their condition warrants. 

Was she serious? Of course not, and she dismissed my insistent requests that she put the idea into words and send it to newspapers and magazines. Neither of us would suggest that if a patient is diagnosed with cancer and ultimately loses the battle, his or her oncologist should receive a pink slip (even if that is how we treat our teachers when a student can’t or won’t obtain a passing grade). We’re just saying that a doctor should be able to show that every effort was made to heal their patients, and no stone was left unturned in the process. 

“That’s all fine and dandy,” you say, “until it occurs to you that there are way too many sick people and not enough doctors to provide that kind of care.” I agree, though I’d like to point out that a similar scenario has existed in our schools for some time now. Too many children require extra time and attention to achieve the goals mandated, and not enough educators exist to provide it. 

Where are we going to find the money to do this? Where do the uninsured fit in this scenario? Those are tough questions. When educators asked how to fund No Child Left Behind without additional federal assistance, they were essentially told to figure it out for themselves. You see, we don’t actually need to have a plan in place to revamp healthcare, we just have to do it. 

No, my mother’s offhand (and mildly sarcastic) idea is not perfect. But neither are the solutions that were proposed during the primaries. Our broken healthcare system has been and will be a hot topic in the next few months as we near the presidential election, and I’d like to see some real brainstorming. Get creative. Suggest another outrageous overhaul. Get people to think.

As wise as she is brilliant, my mother admitted that such a revolution could never occur. While our politicians clamor to keep their wealthy healthcare industry campaign contributors happy, no such concern exists for teachers. 

Too many people wait too long to be seen, then are rushed through an appointment during which whatever popular new (expensive, poorly tested) drug has just been introduced is tossed at them. Natural treatments are not only ignored, the mere topic of herbal or holistic medicine often is met with annoyance or even hostility (see “Converting the Herbal Skeptics,” by Herb Companion Editor in Chief K.C. Compton). Self diagnosis is vehemently discouraged (for good reason), yet many people receive so little guidance that they have no choice but to sit down and browse the Web for possible clues about their symptoms. 

I really hope my doctor doesn’t see this post. I realize that many of them probably feel pretty helpless as well. Overworked, overstressed, always aware of the malpractice suit just waiting to happen. I don’t think anyone would consider that an enjoyable way to earn a living. It’s unfortunate that so many doctors go through year after year of expensive education and training to devote themselves to the care of others, only to find themselves in this no-win situation. (Sound familiar, teachers?) It’s true that frustrations are occurring on both sides. In what direction do our physicians think the system is heading? 

Have any of you found yourselves in frustrating medical situations? Are you a doctor with something to add? Most importantly, do you have ideas on how to remedy this situation? Please feel free to add them in the comments section below. (I’d also like to hear from our Canadian readers: What are the benefits and drawbacks of your universal healthcare system?) 

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