A brother’s death and its policy implications

Vivian Ho, a colleague and health economist affiliated with Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, drew my attention to her post about her brother’s death in 2005 from an aortic aneurysm. It’s a tragic story about the failings of our medical system and the way we interface with it. Ho writes,

The questions still haunt me. Why didn’t the physician recognize that chest pain radiating to the back is an indicator for aortic dissection? With the additional evidence from the X-ray, why didn’t the physician recommend that Michael go to a hospital immediately? Why didn’t my brother notice that the swelling had begun much earlier, so that it was not likely due to an allergic reaction? Given that my brother was still on vacation from work, why didn’t he take the extra time to go to a hospital for further testing? …

Other than better luck and improved physician awareness of the symptoms of this condition, what might help people with an aortic dissection avoid my brother’s fate in the future?

Kudos to Ho for spreading the word about the symptoms of aortic aneurysms. But more than that, she deserves praise for turning her family tragedy into clear policy implications. We can do so much better!

In general, I am surprised that the American public maintains such high trust in our health care system, despite widely publicized information on the wide rate of medical errors that persist in health care. The federal government is taking some steps in the right direction to improve the quality of health care, but much stronger demands for improvement by consumers are necessary to transform the system.

Ho’s post is worth a full read. Please check it out!

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