Dr Strossmayer and health care reform

A Hospital on the Edge of Town

Czechs, doctors and patients alike, seem to be really worried about their health care and the government’s plans to reform it. These plans which, among other things, include fees for visits to the doctor’s, emergency wards and prescriptions, might have even cost the ruling coalition the recent regional elections. Most people are apparently happy with the way things are now, and have been since the state nationalized all medical care. Well, for one, I am not.

A Hospital on the Edge of Town
In the 1970s, Czechs fell for a hospital TV series called Nemocnice na kraji města, or A Hospital on the Edge of Town. The show’s most popular character, a Doctor Strossmayer, was famous for patronising his patients whenever they disagreed with him, ridiculing and humiliating them. Whenever an unlucky patient requested an explanation, or questioned a treatment’s necessity, the rude medic completely lost it. The patients who suffered at the hands of the ill-tempered doctor were portrayed as dumb, annoying and irritating and so the viewers inevitably sided with the rude doctor. Amusing as it may be, doctors’ attitudes to patients is taking a long time to change.

Last year, I had to go to hospital with appendicitis. When I arrived in the emergency unit on a Saturday night, I was unlucky to meet one of those old-school doctors who went into great length to tell me off for everything I had or had not done. Then, after the standard operation, I bothered the doctors because I wanted to be released. Most of them were nice but treated me like a mental patient; just one of them – the youngest – was actually willing to talk to me.

Our cat Bob, on the other hand, came down recently with some strange disease and had to be taken to an animal hospital for testing, and spent a night there. The care was, and will be, expensive – which is probably what made all the difference. The staff were friendly and the doctor talked us through every step of the way. This is, I suppose, because it’s their clients who pay their bills, and not insurance companies who in the equivalent system for us people redistribute the money collected as monthly health insurance payments.

When you put aside the one dollar fifty charge for seeing your doctor and less than five dollars for a visit to the emergency, the government says the reforms are trying to repair the doctor-patient relationship. Patients should really become clients, and doctors should become their aids, instead of the snotty know-it-alls they often are, like that doctor who attended to my appendix at the emergency.

But to be fair, I have to mention my encounter with soon-to-be reformed US health care system. During my trip, I went swimming a lot in rivers and lakes, which got me a nice ear infection. After a couple of days my right ear was in a lot of pain, so I went to see a doctor. I must have been the first alien to have wondered into the medical centre in that small town in Iowa, as the staff was completely baffled by me not having a social security number. I said I would pay in cash, since I could be reimbursed from my insurance when I come back, so they hesitatingly agreed to treat me – for free. The result was that a doctor examined my ear, told me to wash it properly, and said he couldn’t do anything more about it. Two weeks later in Prague, it was fixed by antibiotics my doctor gave me. It cost sixty crowns.