Dear President Obama,
First of all, congratulations! Your speech Tuesday laid the foundation for our nation’s future efforts, and effectively communicated that it will take all of us working together to move the United States forward.
You have mentioned that health care is one of your priorities. I, along with many others, appreciate your selection of such a knowledgeable person as Tom Daschle to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. We hope that he can work with Congress to begin to effectively fix our health care system.
I am sure that Secretary-designee Daschle and you read the December 1, 2008, issue of Time Magazine. The cover story is entitled, “Annual Checkup: The Sorry State of American Health.” The article offered five truths about health care in America:
- The U.S. spends far more on health care than any other nation.
- This financial investment is not translating into healthier citizens. Instead, we have shorter lives and a higher infant mortality rate than many other developed nations.
- Although the number of Americans smoking has declined, we do not live healthy lives.
- We have more awareness about and better treatments for America’s top killers.
- Millions of Americans are at risk because they don’t have insurance or easy access to a doctor.
These are all pressing issues for our country. We need to reform health care so that we as a nation are fiscally responsible while also creating a system that makes sense in supporting our own health and that of our family and fellow citizens. However, I believe that your policies also need to place the responsibility for health on each individual’s shoulders. Your plan needs to stress that each of us must make the daily choices – whether through good nutrition or regular exercise - that together add up to good health.
Time’s story provides a very good foundation, but there are other issues that need to be addressed. From my perspective as a caregiver for my mother, who suffered from both Alzheimer’s disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, there are other issues that need to be considered:
- We need a central computerized system for medical records that can be accessed by all medical professionals. Starting in 1997, my mother had multiple excellent doctors at various times – general practitioners, pulmonologists, neurologists, and an allergist (some of whom were in different cities). However, I found that her medical care was disorganized and that medical professionals did not communicate with each other, even when they were in the same city. Doctors did not talk with one another about what they diagnosed or prescribed. Instead, my mother – even though she was having short-term memory loss – was expected to remember the diagnosis and communicate it to other doctors. When she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the task of communicating fell to me. I did not feel like this role was appropriate since I do not have medical training to relay each diagnosis. This lack of coordination also had a monetary impact. When I asked Mom’s pulmonologist to “brief” a new primary care physician whom Mom would be seeing for the first time, we were charged for the time the pulmonologist had to take to make the phone call. By creating a coordinated system where doctors and other medical personnel can see a patient’s past history, you will help doctors be more effective, streamline key costs, and ensure that a loved one with Alzheimer’s and caregivers can assume a more structured partnership with the medical profession that is based on a catalogued wealth of information. Some systems exist, but we need a cohesive database that will allow medical professionals to have access. And this medical records system should be all inclusive so that my dentist could also see my medical records and my primary care physician could be alerted to whether I had gum disease (which has been linked by some researchers to heart disease).
- Another key issue is recruiting and preparing nurses. We need to have effective policies to encourage more people to consider nursing as a profession, such as providing scholarships for students who want to pursue this career and opportunities for long-term advancement, as well as support to help them avoid career burn-out.
- Caregivers need support in many ways. In my case, I was not anticipating that I would be placed in a caregiving role. When the tsunami of caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s suddenly crashed into my life, I barely kept my own life afloat. I was fortunate to work for organizations that allowed me to have a flexible schedule to be available for my mom. However, many caregivers do not have that opportunity and need your help in encouraging businesses in becoming family friendly in relation to eldercare, as well as child care. Furthermore, you might consider promoting a tax deduction or other financial support for family members who take on the additional caregiving duties for a relative who is ailing.
Again, we welcome you as president and look forward to the great work your team and you will do in health care. Please remember, “Together, Yes We Can.” By asking for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves as well as helping us handle the great pressure of caregiving for loved ones, you can make great strides in dealing with some of the pressing issues facing not only health care, but also our society.
Published On: January 21, 2009