An experience with US health care

by Hans on 2011/08/06

I’ve always been curious about the US health care system, particularly in terms of how it is similar and different with the Canadian system. Last night, I had a chance to experience the US system first-hand.

A few of us went out for dinner and on our way back home, one of the members slipped and fell. Snap. And silence. I turned around and saw my friend lying on the ground. For a moment, I wondered if the sound was a twig snapping. Then I saw his leg and realized it wasn’t a twig but his leg. The best way to describe it was that he broke his leg; his foot was 90 degrees with his leg. A few seconds passed and then he cried out in agony. I pulled out my phone and dialed 911.

The dispatcher answered my call and I told them a friend had fallen and broken his leg. They seemed quite non-plussed until I tried to relay the urgency of the situation. “His foot is dangling at a 90′ angle with his foot. Please send help now”. The dispatcher said that someone would be coming immediately and then asked me for a location. Not being from the area, I did my best to describe where we were. In the meantime, my friend was screaming.

We were able to calm our friend down for a moment and what he then said surprised me to no end. First, he started apologizing to us for screwing up our evening. And then, he started cursing because he said he didn’t have health insurance. Health insurance coverage was the furthest thing from my mind and here he was thinking about how he is going to pay for his care!

Two minutes later, a small bevy of vehicles pulled up – it was the fire department and paramedics. There was an older looking paramedic/fire fighter and he looked at the leg and immediately started talking into his radio. The paramedics did their job of trying to immobilize the leg (more screams of agony). In a few other minutes they were off to the local hospital.

We followed in the car to the hospital. I think we were all in a bit of shock at the events. The ER was a bit of a surprise to me as it was completely empty and barren of people. The clerks seemed bored sitting behind the desk. We sat down in the waiting area – the only ones in spacious room.

I was thinking that my friend was lucky that his broken leg didn’t break skin (you can read about the different types of fractures like an open fracture from Wikipedia). I knew he was in a serious condition and expected that once all of the diagnostics were done, he would need a morphine drip to ease his pain. Turns out he broke both his tibia and fibula (a few inches above the ankle) and had surgery this morning. He probably had pins or rods inserted and will need crutches for a few months while he recovers.

Again, my experiences with health care have been through family members. My father’s first experience with Telehealth Ontario’ and my dad going to the ER. In both of these instances, I never had to worry about payment or insurance coverage. Honestly, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be worried about whether your insurance (assuming you have it) will cover a procedure or treatment. Maybe I’m naive about how things run, but in Canada, we don’t tend to worry about that. Maybe we worry that we won’t get treatment in the most timely fashion because of waiting lists, but at least we don’t worry about going bankrupt.

I hope my friend makes a speedy recovery and isn’t too burdened by the costs of treatment and care. Actually, on my way to the US, I sat beside a nice gentleman and we started chatting. He learned that I am a health care consultant. A few moments into our conversation, we were commenting about how expensive health care is and then he made a statement that still perplexes me. He said that health care is too expensive because we (i.e., Americans) are paying for everyone else. I asked him about that and he wondered why he should be paying for someone else. I said that if we don’t pay, who will take care of the less fortunate? He said that they need to take care of themselves and pay for their own care and that health care wasn’t/isn’t a right. Wow. I’m not even sure what to think about that statement. Maybe I am a bit more left leaning and agree with Michael Moore’s statement that “we’re all in this together”. Or, maybe I just believe that we have a responsibility to take care of our neighbours in their time of need.

I’ve been exposed to the US health care system for a few months now and am still processing my observations and plan to share some of them soon.


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Mobile Health App Contest

by Hans on 2011/04/27

Just sharing a very interesting contest that I became aware of recently. The contest is called “Applications for Good” ( and will be “giving away $50,000 in prize money to develop mobile, desktop, web, and SMS applications to help people learn, be healthier, get jobs, and get financial security”.


The contest is being run by a not-for-profit organization called One Economy Corporation.

You can check out the site to get involved with it and put up their ideas for a mobile health application and form a team to make one come to life. You do not need to have coding experience to do this.

For programmers, there are a few “Code-A-Thons” to make applications in Portland, Washington D.C., and San Francisco:

The contest sounds interesting and I’m anticipating some very innovative ideas to be submitted.

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The games surrounding certification in EHRs

February 15, 2011 reviews

A little while back, the Certification Committee for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) had its future in doubt because of some announcements about possible changes to its role. As with any program, there seems to be some issues surrounding the certification process and whether vendors may be “playing games”. Houston Neal, of Software Advice, has an […]

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HealthAchieve 2010: ehealthachieve “meaningful use” panel discussion

November 9, 2010 Uncategorized

Didn’t get a chance to write a post of the eHealthAchieve session on “meaningful use” but I did manage to tweet the main points which were raised. It was an interesting experience tweeting. If you want to follow the points, look my handle (@hansmixer) on twitter and search for the #HealthAchieve tag. You can also […]

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HealthAchieve 2010: Going for Gold (Day 2 – morning feature session)

November 9, 2010 conferences & conventions

This session opened with a video of highlights from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics with the official Olympic song, “I Believe”. Gotta admit that seeing the images again pulled some emotions. The session was moderated by Brian Williams who started off with an interesting and funny story. He then spoke about the changing attitude […]

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HealthAchieve 2010: HR session by Nick Vujicic (Day 2 – morning)

November 9, 2010 Uncategorized

I was able to catch the tail end of the morning HR Session with motivational speaker Nick Vujicic. I don’t know the details of his story, but what I do know is that he doesn’t have any arms and legs. My first thought was “how does he dress himself?” which the person next to me […]

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HealthAchieve 2010: eHealthAchieve opening session (Day 2 morning)

November 9, 2010 conferences & conventions

The focus of the opening session of the eHealthAchieve track was on “smart mobility and clinical collaboration”. There was a panel presentation by IBM, RIM, and Toronto East General Hospital. IBM’s presentation was focused on the benefits of technology in health care settings, namely 1) improving operational effectiveness, 2) achieve better outcomes and quality, and […]

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HealthAchieve 2010: Opening Session (Day 1 – morning)

November 8, 2010 conferences & conventions

Welcome from HealthAchieve 2010! I was able to attend this year and am looking forward to some interesting presentations, inspiring stories (most likely from the Canadian Olympians), and warm reconnections with colleagues. I’ll try to post some photos to include with the posts (if I remember to take them). As usual, the opening session was […]

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