My dad got back from the hospital on Sunday. He had six screws drilled into his spinal cord to stabilize it. For those who don’t know, my dad has been handicapped from the age of 19, when he broke his neck and injured his spinal cord. His left leg has been paralyzed since. He’s walked with a cane all my life, and his condition has gotten worse over the years.
The surgery was done to prevent a loose bone in his neck from pushing back into the spinal column and severing the nerves – which would kill him. Fortunately the surgery was a huge success and he is back home now and doing great.
The two weeks of recovery in the hospital on the other hand, weren’t quite so successful in my opinion. Let me restate the obvious – the American medical system is broken. My dad was admitted into an exclusive rehab program. There he spent a few hours a day doing physical and occupational therapy. The people running the program were great, and he picked up good skills along the way. But the entire experience was surrounded by blind policies squarely aimed at avoiding costly lawsuits. The nurses, orderlies and therapists were all motivated by one consuming fear: losing their jobs. So instead of focusing on, what I would argue was the top priority, my father’s health, they spent their time checking boxes and doing paperwork. Pushing paper.
Four days after the surgery, I was at the hospital with my dad. The combination of the surgery and high doses of pain medication had blocked up his normal…biological functions. That afternoon, nature called and my dad finally spent forty five glorious minutes on the toilet. Great news for a man who had been constipated for four days! But, this was not great news for the physical therapist who was supposed to be working with him at that time.
“This is the rehab floor. In order to stay on it, you’re dad has to do three hours of therapy a day. Missing this hour isn’t okay.” The therapist told me. She went as far as trying to get into the bathroom, where my dad was having his moment with nature. The only thing which blocked her was me physically standing between her and the door handle. “I have to ask him three times,” she explained administrative protocol. “He has to say no to me three times.”
Now the problem in this situation isn’t the therapist. She is a bit misguided, sure, but she isn’t evil. What’s evil is the awful administrative policies our country has produced, which prioritizes check boxes and paperwork over a patients health.
This is a topic I’m going to be thinking a lot more about in the months to come. How can we use technology and improve process, to reorient our medical system, to be more efficient and caring? My father’s story is one of thousands, but it awakened a concern I have always had. Who is running American medical care? Doctors? Patients? Or lawyers? I fear for now, it is the latter. How can we harness the technological improvements of today to change the health of Americans tomorrow?