Healthcare does not follow the same free enterprise rules as nearly any other business. This can be directly linked to a number of factors, including distance to a doctor, government oversight and subsidization, and the insurance lobby. This can create a frustrating situation for the patient who needs medical care quickly, because it can make their healthcare providers appear heartless or uncaring. With the emphasis on customer service in other sectors, many patients may expect their local hospital or doctor’s office to be just as accommodating, only to be disappointed. Here are five reasons why healthcare is unlike every other business.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has unchallenged control over approximately twenty-five percent of the products imported, exported, bought, and sold in the USA. This is because the FDA is concerned with nearly every aspect of everything people can eat, drink, take as medication, or have put into their bodies. The FDA has regulations for medical care as well, including what materials can be used in artificial knees and hips, the schedule of controlled substances, and even best practices for protecting patient information. This government oversight is seen by many critics as too far-reaching and even absurd in some cases, but for healthcare providers to keep their licenses, they have to comply.
Dispersion of Care
Particularly in rural areas, getting to a doctor can be an ordeal all on its own. Because the old-style “town doctor” has all but vanished from the American landscape, patients have to travel further to get any sort of medical care at all. House calls simply are not a part of the healthcare experience anymore, either. When a medical practitioner does come to a house, commonly they are nurses who are limited sharply in what they can and cannot do by comparison to doctors. This can make getting timely medical care a real problem for many people.
Under federal and most state laws, even if a patient does not have insurance, they must be given appropriate stabilization and aftercare. However, the insurance lobby has made it so expensive to get insurance (and to get care without it) that a shockingly high number of people in this country simply cannot afford it. The so-called “Obamacare” initiative was supposed to solve this problem, but critics charge this new law takes away freedom of choice from patients and leads to a monopoly situation for medical insurance providers, as well as placing an unfair burden on employers.
Privacy and Security
A patient’s medical information is confidential and available only to the patient and their healthcare provider. Privacy and security laws have made getting patient medical records transferred from one place to another so complicated, confusing, and in many cases expensive, so that they directly limit a patient’s freedom of movement from one provider to another. This can be particularly problematic in a situation where a patient needs to go from a general practitioner to a specialist, but needs the medical records to show the specialist what the trouble is and cannot get access to them.
Most patients today do not have the ability to shop around for medical care, either because there are not any doctors nearby or because the prices for everything from antibiotics to major surgery are so complex and confusing. Many critics are calling for more transparency in medical care pricing, along with justification of such charges as a hospital aspirin costing patients ten dollars a pill. Healthcare providers say insurance companies are the ones setting the prices, but the American people are the ones paying.
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Denise Phillips is a healthcare information manager who also contributed to How To Become A Medical Data Analyst.