Visit any US hospital doctor’s or surgeon’s lounge and you’ll hear the low, continuous rumble of complaints. Reimbursements are down, Medicare is cutting back, Obamacare is going to be the end of us, patients are waiting longer, Malpractice costs are skyrocketing. As a surgeon who has divided his time between Africa and America, I’ll be honest with you: it’s easy to lose patience with all the complaints.
We’ve forgotten how good we have it. Yes there are problems. Yes, some reform is needed (why don’t we start with tort reform..but don’t get me started, as I’ll soon sound like the ones I’m trying to encourage here). But we have the best system in the world. I’ve been in so many hospitals in East Africa and I can tell you: your worst nightmare would be waking up to find out you are in a Kenyan District hospital.
In the US, I use a “disposable” clip applier during laparoscopic surgery. It likely cost the patient one hundred and fifty dollars. In Kenya, I’d use the same “disposable” instrument a dozen times. (And guess what, it worked!). Overall, because there is no money, we were forced to make do. Patients endure “wards” with dozens of cots lining the walls. There is one sink at the end of the room, a pharmacy with the basics, and a housekeeping service that can’t seem to keep up….so I just learned to overlook the trash.
In Kenya, we didn’t have a CT scanner or MRI scanner at my hospital. We had an ultrasound, but no radiologist. We didn’t have many subspecialists. The medicine was provided by a generalist and if you come in with a head injury, you’ll get me (a general surgeon) instead of a neurosurgeon to drain the blood pressing on your brain.
But in Kenya, if you listen to the buzz around the doctors, there is a funny absence: no complaints. They’ve never known anything better and they’ve learned to make do.
I’m not saying there aren’t room for improvements. I’m just saying that mixed in with all of our negative comments, we should whisper a “thank you,” for the best health system in the world.
Harry Kraus, MD, FACS
Best-selling author of “The Six-Liter Club”
This post was submitted by Harry Kraus, MD.