Finding the Spirit of Giving in the Healthcare Industry

Because the celebrations of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa all include the tradition of gift-giving, we have come to think of the holidays as a time of giving. As a kid I remember being told in Sunday school that Christmas presents were really birthday presents for Jesus that we give to one another to recall the gifts the Magi gave to the Christ child. During this holiday season I wonder what place the spirit of giving has in our modern healthcare system. At first glance it would seem that the Grinch-like claws of the insurance companies would choke the life out of any healthcare practitioner’s impulse to give to others through his profession. The season, it seems, belongs to Scrooge as insurance companies bully patients to use online pharmacies, attempt to substitute lower-cost prescriptions for the originals without consulting physicians and pressure pharmacies to accept tiny profits on the drugs they dispense. And we consumers, like Bob Cratchit, are left to carry the burden of the healthcare system on our shoulders with its skyrocketing costs and cutbacks in service. It seems the spirit of Christmas present may pass us by this year.

But despite the insurance industry’s strangle-hold on the profession, medicine is a helping profession. People still become doctors, nurses and pharmacists to serve. I came across a story recently about William Kennedy, a retired pharmacist who worked in Illinois for 42 years. He worked in a corporate pharmacy where the philosophy was to pay litigation settlements because it was cheaper than staffing more pharmacists to avoid errors. Although the budget guideline allotted 3 minutes per prescription, he made sure to counsel each and every customer. “The corporation didn’t like that,” he said, “because I wasn’t getting dollars into the cash register fast enough. There was no time allotted for counseling.” Then there’s the story of Becki Kuns, a fresh-faced graduate of Duquesne University, who sees herself as the liaison between physician and patient and emphasizes the importance of communication and relationship-building in pharmacy. Her goal is to begin a consultation program for diabetics because, as she puts it, “the disease is everywhere.”

Even though corporations like Walgreen’s and CVS seek to dominate the market, independent-minded pharmacists and independent pharmacies still provide alternatives within a high-volume, impersonal atmosphere. Hundreds of local pharmacies have closed in the country, places that once compounded prescriptions, offered vaccinations, delivery service, counseling and  pharmacists who you could call in the off-hours if you really needed help. The University of Washington’s publication, “University Week”, recounts a story of a business plan by student pharmacists to take over an independent pharmacy in Squim, Washington. It seems the current owner and pharmacist is retiring and wants to turn over the business to someone interested in continuing his mission of providing personalized customer service. The students put together a plan to grow profits without sacrificing the business’ service ethic and the plan will be marketed to potential buyers.

The next time you open a bill for medical services denied by your insurance company, it may help to remember that for every story about the ineffectiveness and greed of the healthcare industry, there are individuals finding ways around the system. It restores my holiday mood to know that healthcare workers, including pharmacists, still seek to serve their fellow man and not just at Christmas time, but all throughout the year. And that, I believe, would make my Sunday school teacher proud.

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Apex Medical Placements.

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