From the battlefields of Iraq to stretches of U.S. highways, today's trauma victims are benefiting from techniques perfected by doctors during World War II, when the level of carnage surpassed anything seen by American combatants in recent years but the medical tools were rudimentary.
On Veterans Day, Outliers dropped by the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, where the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons unveiled a traveling exhibit honoring the medical veterans. "Legacy of Heroes" documents the stories of orthopedic surgeons whose experiences helped forge medical advances in blood and plasma use, hand surgery, rehabilitation and wound treatment. The war also helped spur the mass production of penicillin, which wasn't available to military surgeons until 1944.
Samuel Fraerman, a battlefield surgeon who was interviewed for the exhibit, told the gathering that medical treatment options during the war were "primitive," but the surgeons became "experts at knowing what tissues were dead, what weren't" after the barrage of wounded they treated.
The veterans say their tours of duty made them better technical doctors. No operating room situation could compete with the pressures of the front line. One doctor, Marcus Stewart, says in the "Wounded in Action" film that's part of the exhibit that the war's legacy for him was that it provided the justification for prompt and deliberate treatment. There was no time for "pussyfooting," which made the battlefield a natural medical training ground. Doctors who had little or no formal training were forced to make a "diagnosis early and get on with it."
But what's also apparent from the many interviews is "what professionalism is and what it means to care," says Sandra Gordon, a spokeswoman for the academy.
The exhibit's tour schedule can be viewed at legacyofheroes.aaos.org.
Answering the challenge
Just about everyone believes the U.S. healthcare system is broken. But what should be done about it? Presidential aspirants have unveiled blueprints for a massive overhaul. States are trying some smaller-scale remedies. Are there any other ideas on how to finally get this thing fixed?
Judging by more than 100 entries to a contest seeking innovative solutions to what ails healthcare in the U.S., the answer is a resounding yes.
The winner, however, may have surprised many: A Canadian dentist from Arnprior, Ontario, won the first prize of $10,000 for his patient-empowerment proposal. R. Vaughan Glover says he entered the contest to be a catalyst for change and because of frustration with both the American and Canadian systems-contending they're based on principles of insurance, not true principles of health.
"All the stakeholders in healthcare have changed," Glover says, adding that it's time to move away from a disease-based healthcare system to a health system focused on the patient. "Remember, there's nothing that a doctor, support group or insurance plan can do that will overcome what a patient will not do."
The contest was the result of a challenge made by Seattle healthcare consultant Kathleen O'Connor in conjunction with a book she penned last year, The Buck Stops Nowhere-Why America's Healthcare System is All Dollars and No Sense. The not-for-profit group she founded, Code Blue Now, will spend the next year promoting the contest's collective ideas, educating the public and lobbying lawmakers in Washington.
He vill be back to you
A contest more likely to have an immediate effect is one in California, where people are being given the chance to give the Terminator their solutions to rising healthcare costs.
The not-for-profit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Santa Monica, Calif., has launched a statewide contest seeking the best new ideas on how to remove "profiteering, waste and bloated administrative costs" from the healthcare system without cutting existing programs or limiting access to care.
There's no cash prize, but the 100 top entries will be presented to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the entrant with the single best idea will be flown to sunny Sacramento sometime in mid-January for a news conference and a day of meetings with state policymakers.
"It's critical that policymakers think creatively about ways to make our healthcare system as efficient and affordable as possible," said foundation consumer advocate Jerry Flanagan. "We're recruiting all Californians to help them out."
Contest entries should be sent by Dec. 19 to [email protected] with the words "contest entry" in the subject line. Include name, phone number and city of residence.
Contests, part III
A registered nurse wound up having a big say in the future of Colorado's Poudre Valley Health System, and no, she isn't a system executive. Susan Markley, a cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist who has worked for 18 years at 260-bed Poudre Valley Hospital, Fort Collins, Colo., won a contest to name a new facility that will specialize in cardiac surgery, cardiology and trauma. The Medical Center of the Rockies is scheduled to open in late 2006.
Markley, 42, received $500 for the winning entry, which she donated to her own project, Inspiration Baskets, which distributes gifts and inspirational sayings to families of critically ill cardiac patients.
The baskets include items from chewing gum and candy to notepads and pencils so families can write questions for their doctor.
"The purpose is to offer good will, emotional support and recognition of the family's crisis," says Markley, who was named one of Colorado's best nurses in 1999 when she received the Florence Nightingale Award for Nursing.
Rulon Stacey, president and CEO of the system, said the system would match Markley's $500 donation to the program.