I have profound hope in the future of the American healthcare system. And it has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision that found most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act constitutional.
Rather, I’ve seen the future of our troubled system through the wisdom, dedication and enthusiasm of Elisabeth Askin and Nathan Moore, two aspiring physicians at Washington University School of Medicine who have just completed an important new book that should be required reading for anyone who will depend on our healthcare system at some point in their lives. In other words, this is a book for everyone.
“The Health Care Handbook: A Clear and Concise Guide to the American Health Care System,” which is currently available as an ebook and will soon be in print, was inspired by Elisabeth and Nathan’s keen interest in learning more about the economic, organizational and societal challenges inherent in providing healthcare services to American citizens. Given medical school’s daunting, jam-packed clinical coursework and patient care rotations, these issues get scant attention in the traditional curriculum. So it took a handful of students with similar interests to launch a health economics and policy special interest group to provide a forum to explore important questions prompted largely by public debate around health reform.
As the group came together, they quickly discovered that contemporary, comprehensive information on exactly how our complicated healthcare system works – or sometimes doesn’t work – was tough to come by. Elisabeth and Nathan approached Dr. William Peck, the group’s adviser and the Director of the Center for Health Policy at Washington University, with the idea of writing a book to fill this void. As the past dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. Peck is intimately aware of the rigors facing medical school students. His initial reaction to the idea of writing a book while a medical school student was a respectful version of, “Are you serious!?”
Fortuitously, Elisabeth was approaching the summer following her first year, one of the few times that medical school students have several unscheduled weeks before they graduate. She applied for and received a small grant available to first-year students from the National Institutes of Health to help fund initial research and writing time for the book. With Nathan supporting the effort as primary researcher, Elisabeth completed the majority of the first draft during the ten-week break last summer.
The extraordinary commitment and discipline required to author a book – especially in the middle of medical school – must surely be inspired by more than simply a passing interest in health policy. When asked why they were so driven to complete this important project, Nathan and Elisabeth explained their desire to play a role in helping to improve healthcare in the future by advancing knowledge about how care in the U.S. is actually provided and paid for in today’s fragmented system. Their goal of producing a resource that both professional and lay audiences could read and understand has been achieved in “The Health Care Handbook.”
Further, Elisabeth and Nathan hope that this initial edition of the handbook will become an enduring legacy in the tradition of the “Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics,” which was first published in 1942 and has become the best-selling medical textbook in the world. The manual remains current because it is updated every few years by residents in the School of Medicine, and Nathan and Elisabeth hope that future students with an interest in health policy and economics will similarly update the Handbook to provide current information on health system questions and issues.
Whether you believe that the Affordable Care Act will help make things better or create new problems, experts on all sides of the health reform debate have to admit that there are vast misconceptions and gaps in understanding about the true nature of the issues we face and how to solve them. If Nathan and Elisabeth’s new book plays even a small role in lessening this gap of understanding, they have made a significant contribution to addressing one of the greatest challenges facing our generation.