USA: No Excuse for This

Posted on September 29, 2011

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USA: Earlier this week a story broke across the newswires about a gorgeous little boy – Aaron Pointer – who had an asthma attack last year in Matteson, Illinois, and died while being shuttled by ambulance from hospital to hospital over 11 agonizing hours. Read his story, but know that you will never forget his sweet little face. There is, of course, a lawsuit.

This story upset me so much that it has taken me four days to write this post. Lots of stories upset me; remember, over 1,000 people die every day in US hospitals from the care they receive. This one struck a nerve however, because I’m working on HealthCare PSI’s first patient care initiative – Project PEAK. I’ve mentioned this project before and getting it up and going is taking all of my time at present. It is exhausting, rewarding work,  and it is stories like this one that underscore the need for this program – and points out the big gaping void our healthcare industry has delivering competent asthma care.

Mark Brown, with the Chicago Sun Times wrote about the problem in an op ed for the paper. I share his sentiments. I, too, have asthma. I’ve had it since I was a kid but wasn’t diagnosed until I was 33 years old. What boggles my mind is that I wasn’t even tested for the condition, even though I had all the symptoms and was in the doctor’s office 4 to 6 times a year for respiratory infections. I was given antibiotics like they were Pez and learned to live a diminished lifestyle. As I’ve delved into asthma research for Project PEAK, I discovered that the care I received as a child and young adult is “normal” for asthma patients. Happens all the time. Further, it is a major reason for the uptick in COPD cases among adults.

The 2011 Global Asthma Report was released last week and some very interesting data was shared about the treatment of this condition around the world.

  • Even though asthma is a widely known condition, a majority of primary care doctors fail to test for it or treat it, opting instead to give out antibiotics. Repeatedly. And, of course, we all know about the dangers of antibiotic overuse.
  • The US spends more than any other country on the planet in emergency care for uncontrolled asthma. 2009 data put the annual dollar amount spent on ER visits and hospitalization in the US alone at $8,256,000,000. That figure does not include all those office visits for respiratory infections. Clearly, this is a handsome source of revenue for this nation’s hospital chains – one that would go away almost overnight if effective treatment were given to asthma patients.

I’m sharing this quote below from Bobby Ramakant’s report published in the DaijiWorld:

“The tools to treat asthma are already available – there is no reason to delay”, says Dr Nils E Billo, Executive Director of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). “Moreover, when asthma is not diagnosed, not treated or poorly managed, and when people can not access or afford treatment, they regularly end up having to miss school or work, they are unable to contribute fully to their families, communities and societies, they may require expensive emergency care, and everyone loses. The obstacles to well-managed asthma can be overcome. Asthma is a public health problem that can – and should be addressed now” added Dr Billo.

Asthma is a  monumental drain on our nation’s physical and economic health. Failure to Diagnose. Failure to Treat. Both are forms of preventable medical harm. And that’s why HealthCare PSI is tackling childhood asthma care. If you want more information about Project PEAK, send me an email: PEAK@healthcarepsi.org.

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