Jun 21, 2009

Patients Take Center Stage in Gawande's Writing

It's been nearly three weeks since Atul Gawande's article, "The Cost Conundrum," was published in The New Yorker. But the buzz and excitement has not even begun to dwindle. On the contrary, my friends who never paid any attention to health care are now asking me questions like, "So, what's with the health care costs in the US?", "What is Obama talking about?", "Dartmouth Atlas? What is that?", "Is the US going to get universal health care?", "Can we fix the incentives to reduce waste?", "Is the overuse mainly a result of practices of defensive medicine?"...

To all of my friends who have asked me questions, thank you and keep them coming! As a very soon to be medical school student, I care a great deal about health care. While I understand everyone has their own passions, it has always surprised me by how little people cared about a system that everyone has had experience with. But, thanks to Atul Gawande, I now have an excuse to blabber on ad nauseam about health care to all!

Word Cloud from Atul Gawande's "Cost Conundrum" piece

Word Cloud from Atul Gawande's University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine Commencement Address

Why the sudden shift in interest? The facts that Atul Gawande is a eloquent and powerful writer, Obama has made Gawande's article mandatory reading for the White House, and that it's all over the news are important factors. However, for the first time, I think the health care reform agenda is being painted in a new light. Sure, insurance and coverage are still big topics; but there are new ideas being tossed around like quality, patient-centeredness, culture of medicine, and team work. Just take a look at the word clouds of Gawande's pieces!

Most importantly, patients are now a big part of what many see as the pathway to a better health care system. What do patients need and want? How can we as health care providers and engineers of the health care system provide better care for the patients? Since we are all going to be patients at some point in our lives, these arguments hit a very personal chord. Hopefully, as we continue to search for the best health reform plan, we can all dig deep and remember the true purpose of health care and let that notion guide us.

Thanks to Ben Tseng for sending me this piece in the Washington Post with the Gawande word clouds. These images are all too powerful!

Here is another great related Atul Gawande piece that focuses on quality: "The Bell Curve" published in The New Yorker.


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