Wednesday, 2 December 2009

NHS vs. Private Medicine

I'm not going to go all political on you guys, but want to share one of our experiences of socialized medicine.

Since moving to Scotland, we have been eligible for free health care through the National Health System. It seemed so strange to us since we've always had terrific health care through Scott's employer. With the NHS, you register with a General Practitioner (give them your name, address, phone number and date of birth) and then all of your health care needs are sorted. You call and make an appointment, and depending on your ailment, you turn up at said time, and you leave with the diagnosis/prescription/advice you need. No co-pay. No paperwork. No nothing.

The doctors offices we've been to so far have all been a flash back to another time. They are not flashy, there is little state-of-the-art equipment, and the customer service is not what we were used to in the US. At first, I criticized all of this with a sharp tongue. I found faults and noted them in my memory. But over time, I have come to appreciate the absence of unnecessary processes, procedures, equipment, paperwork, and treatments. It easy for me to say all of this because our family is blessed with good health and we have the back-up of private health care insurance. So if anything is not to our liking or our time frame, we can call the private guys. So I can look at both sides fairly un-baised.

So why am I telling you all of this?

Because 2 weeks ago, Christopher fractured his toe. It was a Tuesday night and he tripped going up the stairs. He complained about it going to bed, but I brushed it off and said we'd see in the morning. Well, he could barely walk Wednesday morning and he and I were staying home that day sick with a cold virus. I phoned the GP to see what "procedure" to follow and/or to make an appointment. The receptionist let me know that it would be the following Tuesday before the doctor could see him. "Um, well, seeing that he can't walk and I think it's a broken toe, one week from now might be a little late. What could you do for me?" I said. How about Friday, she said. Um, no. I think it's an emergency. She then said, well, go to the emergency room. Okay. Point well taken. We'll go to the ER. (Having been through this with Ethan in Dallas, we called the PCP, say her straight away, and then went to the lab for x-rays.)

The children's hospital was quiet as can be so Christopher and I were quickly attended to by a very nice physician. They took an x-ray, "just in case." (The x-ray machine was fancy dancy. All the bells and whistles which surprised me since the facility itself is straight from 1973.) The physician looked at the film and assured us nothing was broken and sent us home to rest.

Flash forward one week. Another ER physician phoned to let me know that the results were in from Christopher's hospital visit. What??? "His toe is fractured and he should not participate in PE or any physical activities for 6 weeks" he kindly said. Um, okay. He's already been to football, PE and swimming. Does that count? Christopher was bruised but within 24 hours completely back to normal. It was not his kicking foot so we were clear there.

Thankfully, our situation is not serious and/or life threatening; so I can joke about it now.

But I'm not sure which is better: An over-priced, selective (not available to all), state-of-the-art, choice-filled, health care system; or one that is free, run down, over-worked, available to all, slow health care system. Both seem broken to me. What do you think?