Notes on the news:
They know not what <em>they</em> do
Perhaps it's time for healthcare to cure Americans' political incorrectness
Sometimes you think the healthcare professions should tend not only to the human body but also to the body politic as well.
Late last month, the Pew Research Center released results of a news poll. The survey of just over 1,000 adults asked 12 multiple-choice questions on subjects ranging from economics and foreign affairs to prominent people in the news. The findings are not exactly encouraging, especially for those concerned about healthcare and healthcare reform.
After nonstop coverage of the reform debate, only 32% of respondents knew that no Republican had voted for the Senate reform bill. And just 26% correctly answered that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to break a filibuster.
Whether you side with Democrats or Republicans or neither on reform, it’s appalling that so many have so little awareness of what’s going on around them. The survey was conducted Jan. 14-17, just days before Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown won a special election to the U.S. Senate. That raises the question of what, if anything, voters knew or were trying to say about health reform. It’s hard to know the answer because the major news organizations dismissed the race for the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat as a foregone conclusion and didn’t want to spend the money on exit polls.
These findings are even more depressing when you consider that more people probably know about Tiger Woods’ affairs than about national affairs that affect their own lives. (Incidentally, 39% correctly answered that Harry Reid is Senate majority leader, and 32% knew that Michael Steele chairs the Republican National Committee. On an even more worrisome note, younger respondents consistently trailed their elders on knowledge of current issues. One exception: 49% of those younger than 30 correctly identified Stephen Colbert as a comedian and TV show host.)
The poll results say a lot about American education, media and culture. They suggest that no one institution can heal what ails us. But maybe the healthcare segment can help. When doctors are trying to determine whether a patient is mentally impaired, they often ask them what year it is and who the president of the United States is. Perhaps they could ask a couple of more current events questions, and if they get wrong answers, write out a prescription for a subscription to a quality newspaper.
And get rid of the celebrity gossip magazines in the waiting room. And make the youngsters check their electronic devices at the reception desk.
If patients had been reading the New York Times late last month instead of say, People magazine, or text messaging their cohorts, they might have learned about two tragic and fatal cases of radiation poisoning at hospitals in New York. The cases of these cancer patients, who died after overexposure to radiation from linear accelerators, were not isolated. A second article described cases in other states. In fact, reporting of such accidents is haphazard across the country and they are thought to be much more common than previously believed. (See related Modern Healthcare stories, Dec. 14, 2009, p. 10; Feb. 1, p. 6.)
As the Times stories note, a combination of sloppy work by medical personnel and equipment manufacturers have led to the overexposures. We could add something just touched on in the articles: Many hospitals have rushed into sophisticated and potentially dangerous technology for competitive reasons.
Turning a spotlight on the problem could lead to solutions. That is, it will if healthcare executives’ reading habits are better than most Americans’.
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