After two days with doctors at work, Herald-Leader columnist wonders about patients and future of health-care system

Tom Eblen

Tom Eblen, the Lexington Herald-Leader‘s local columnist and former editor, spent two days shadowing doctors last week and lived to tell about it. Part of the Lexington Medical Society’s Mini-Internship Program, Eblen was given a close-up look at the working lives of physicians and the world in which they, well, operate. He found himself alongside an orthopedic surgeon replacing shoulders, doing fascinating retinal work with an caring opthalmologist, in an emergency room on a slow day and with a busy internal medicine specialist. He learned more than confirming he had probably made the correct career choice, he writes.

In the emergency room: “A middle-aged man with a history of heart trouble came in with chest pains. An elderly man came in suffering from dizziness. A young man came in with an infection from a mouth full of rotten teeth.

Like more than one-quarter of all Kentuckians, the young man and several other people Wooster saw that day had no health insurance. What people forget when they debate the cost of universal coverage is that society already pays for treating uninsured people, often at high-cost emergency rooms. . . .

“As I shadowed these physicians, I kept thinking how much of their patients’ pain and suffering could have been avoided if they had taken better care of themselves — if they had eaten better, gotten more exercise, and avoided cigarettes and substance abuse. I wondered how we will continue to manage not only our health care system, but our rising expectations. As people live longer and get sicker, we may need to focus more on quality of life rather than simply extending it at all costs.”
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