The cost of healthcare in the United States is rising; this isn’t news. Many of us console ourselves by saying, “At least we have the best healthcare in the world.” Dr. Robert Pearl tells us why that is far from the truth and writes about it eloquently in Mistreated: Why We Think We’re Getting Good Health Care–And Why We’re Usually Wrong.
Pearl is the executive director and CEO of the Permanente Medical Group (the Permanente part of Kaiser), a faculty member of Stanford’s Business and Medical Schools and an experienced physician. He is also a frustrated son to a father who lost his life to a medical error that probably could have been prevented if our healthcare system was a little bit less profit-based and a little bit more patient-centered. “As a nation, we spend 50 percent more on healthcare than any other country and yet we rank 70th globally in health and wellness.” The bottom line? Pearl suggests it’s all about eliminating unnecessary cost and focusing on quality.
Throughout this well-researched, easy-to-read book, Pearl keeps coming back to the story of his father’s health decline and eventual death, focusing on a couple of key problems. First, his father’s condition was exacerbated by a lack of communication and coordination between different physicians, and particularly their very limited and ineffective use of information technology. “If our banks can do it on a global scale, our healthcare system should be able to do it nationally,” Pearl passionately argues. Second, Pearl describes the economics driving the lack of focus on preventative medicine. Doctors are paid for the services they provide, so it makes sense to an observer that they would focus more on diagnosing and fixing problems than on preventing them. Pearl does not suggest that this behavior is intentional or malicious, but rather a byproduct of our skewed healthcare system. Finally, Pearl details the systemic decline in compassion from the medical community. An increased focus on quantity of interactions means doctors often forget that patients and their families are people, not just subjects.
Pearl is not purely pessimistic in his writing. As a faculty member and physician, he remembers why people get into medicine–because they are empathetic, because they want to save the world, because illness has affected them personally. He offers solutions for repairing our broken healthcare system but warns that it will be a slow process.
Anyone with a personal interest in healthcare–meaning anyone that has been sick, is sick, or could become sick (so, everyone)–should take a look at this book. We aren’t being treated as well as we think we are by the American healthcare system. Often, we’re being mistreated, and we don’t even know it. Mistreated is an intelligent eye-opener.