Health and Health Care: What I am thankful for this year

If you have been watching the new TV show V, then you know there has been some discussion lately about Universal Health Care. I would not pretend to know as much about the subject as V leader Anna or ambitious newsman Chad (played by Scott Wolf), but I do have some thoughts about health care reform that stem from personal experience.

Over the past few years I have watched someone close to me battle a difficult form of cancer. Despite an initially grim prognosis, he has been the beneficiary of a number of cutting edge developments in cancer treatment (including the CyberKnife™ radiation treatment, now being hyped in Boston TV ads). As a result, he has been able to exceed survival expectations and has maintained a high quality of life. It seems that as one treatment starts to become ineffective, another comes along. This is a testament to the strength of medical technology development. I watched someone else wage the same fight 22 years ago. But these options were not available then, and the results were very different.

But as great as the advances in the technology element are, what strikes me more is the improvement in the human element of how patients are treated. In 1997, I was hospitalized and had never before endured such a frustrating and horrible experience (with the possible exception of that time in Newark). But today, in the very same hospital, it has totally changed.

A large part of this may be due to the passage of the Patients’ Bill of Rights in 2001. But, I also believe part of it is due to medical professionals actually listening to their patients and taking them seriously, more like customers. Patients and their loved ones are treated with more dignity and respect, and are provided with better resources for coping. This is as important as the treatments themselves, because the stress levels are so high for patients and their families, and every little thing has a significant impact.

So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for what is good in our health care system. I know that there is a lot that needs to be changed, but I hope these trends in the system are not affected. They represent the best parts of it.