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Good health is something most younger people take for granted while many older people work or hope for. As young persons we live as if we primarily exist as spirits while we develop our own identities primarily based on our physical bodies. However, as many of us know, some physical problem can strike us at any moment whether it is injury caused by external force or ailment caused by internal malfunction of bodies. If that should happen to us in our contemporary world we become dependent on health-care professionals.

It is often said that our medical education is the best in the world. Indeed, in the United States people have to go thorough lengthy years of studies and trainings at least for 11 to 12 years, including undergraduate education. Since the medical school admission system is highly competitive, generally speaking, only people with a high level of intelligence and work ethics can enter the road to that profession. (I remember some corporate executives who marveled at highly intelligent young people who were willing to go through the lengthy impoverished years just in order to become fully certified physicians. It did not make sense to the business people that highly intelligent people should spend so many youthful years on the trainings that demand so much efforts and sleepless nights.) But, due to such rigorous studies and training that physicians have to go through to become bona-fide physicians in the United States, we implicitly trust the doctors’ judgements and care, even while we try to empower ourselves by learning about the particular problems that we suffer from because we know doctors are also only humans. We are thus naturally thankful of doctors who lead us to the road of recovery. And they deserve our gratitude.

Recently, I was a little shocked to learn that the third leading cause of death in the United States, after the heart disease and cancer, is medical errors in a May 17th WSJ article titled “How to Make Hospitals Less Deadly.” Since the article was written by a lawyer, James B. Lieber, I did not necessarily swallow up everything that he wrote. However, I started doing some research on that subject and found damning information in what I consider a more reliable source: a 2000 Journal of American Medical Association article “Is US Health Really the Best in the World?” written by Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH. In this research article she presented rather disconcerting statistics that says each year
12,000 die from unnecessary surgery;
7,000 die from medication errors in hospitals;
20,000 die from other errors in hospitals;
80,000 die from hospital-acquired infections;
106,000 die from the negative side effects of drugs taken as prescribed.
If this research is accurate (sometimes I think we have to question what any written article says to us due to the nature of language, which tend to paint complex reality in broad strokes) it is quite unnerving.

This year I had to find a new primary doctor because my old primary physician had retired. This new physician, a graduate of a medical school in the former Soviet Union block, is actually hired by the for-profit hospital near our house. This doctor seems to order a lot of diagnostic tests at facilities directly related to this for-profit hospital, which seems to hire a lot of underqualified health-care workers. (For instance, its imaging center, where the procedure is done by an assistant, does not have any radiologist on site. In addition, it seems to lack more updated medical equipment. Our neighbor was air-lifted to a Seattle hospital because they did not have the clot buster drug to deal with minor stroke, even when a more equipped hospital only a few miles away could have dealt with such patients easily.) I understand for-profit hospitals make profit by minimizing over-head expenditure while charging exactly the same fees (sometime more than non-profit hospitals) to insurance companies and individual patients. Isn’t there something unethical in such a practice? I can’t help but think that for-profit hospitals as well as for-profit colleges are ethically compromised.