Sunday, February 8, 2009

What I Learned at the Conference

I spent several days in baltimore this past week attending a conference called "Thinking Outside the Box"- about re-designing health care. The conference was a joint project between School for Designing Society and Gesundheit! Institute, which is the brainchild of Patch Adams (remember the movie starring Robin Williams? This is the actual guy.) Yes, I met Patch, yes he's sincere, extremely bright, thoughtful, and well-read, and yes I got to speak directly to him about my questions and concerns. But that is not why I went.

I had a fuzzy agenda as to why I was attending this conference. I do not work in health care- I hang out in health care a lot (as a patient) and am acutely aware of the system's many shortcomings. I think I came because I got tired of pointing out its flaws and I wanted to hear people talk about solutions. Here is what I learned:

- there is plenty of pain to go around. Not only are the patients suffering, the doctors, nurses, and administrators are all suffering from an abusive, oppressive system that sucks the meaning and joy out of their life's calling. The health care providers are just as frustrated as the patients are.

- there is also plenty of creativity to go around, and lots of ideas. there is more than one solution out there. Doctors can leave and start their own practice. We could have community hospitals. (Could my community hijack our nearby hospital and fix it the way the folks at Nettlehorst took over their public school? I wonder! Maybe there's an opportunity to grab one of those abandoned hospitals in New Orleans and build it in the image of a real community hospital.)

-There are things patients can do to improve their own health care experience and to reach through the cloud of insanity and build a relationship with the doctor: do something silly to grab their attention, hug them, ask them how they're doing, bring them cookies, compliment them, or do whatever you would do in order to get anyone to like you, white lab coat or not. Further, instead of assuming everyone is a jerk until proven otherwise, it is just as accurate but more constructive (and compassionate) to say everyone is lonely and hurting until proven otherwise.

-Single-payer health care (universal care provided by the government) would not only be more humane, it would actually be far less expensive than what we have now. It's not an option to just not pay for some people, because we're already paying- only it costs more because they wait until it's a crisis (therefore expensive) to seek treatment.
The humane thing is also the economical thing to do.

-there were so many amazing souls at this gathering that there wasn't time to hear from every one of them. People who care deeply and are passionate about making a difference. It's good to know you're not alone.

-If you're parking in Baltimore, bring lots of quarters. :)
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