Health expert talks of disparity

Former surgeon general speaks at medical school event.
Sunday, October 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Too many Americans have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without health, said former Surgeon General David Satcher to a crowd of about 250 people at the MU School of Medicine on Friday.

Satcher, a widely recognized leader in national efforts to eliminate health disparities, was on hand to deliver the keynote address at the school’s 30th anniversary celebration.

“American culture says health is a commodity to be traded in the marketplace to the highest bidder,” he added.

Satcher talked about the role of physicians in eliminating health disparities, touching on issues such as the immense health challenges exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina and the need for increased dialogue between practitioners and researchers.

In cases like Katrina, he said, the need for computerized medical records is even more pressing.

“People were not only separated from providers, but also their health records,” he said. “Many of them did not know their diagnosis, let alone their medication.

“Paper records are outdated,” he said. “It’s time to bring medical care to the 21st century.”

Satcher said it can take 15 years before research results are adapted into practice.

Satcher highlighted the importance of “care,” noting that cultural understanding continues to be an important factor in patient-physician interactions.

“Culture affects the way patients are diagnosed and the kind of treatments offered to them,” he said.

Even with the best intentions, he said, health care lacks quality if doctors do not express that they are genuinely concerned about their health.

“People don’t really care about how much you know until they know how much you care,” Satcher said.

Satcher helped architect Healthy People 2010, which outlines the nation’s goals eliminating health disparities and increasing quality of life. He said since the report was released in 2000, awareness has increased and the issue remains at the forefront of the national agenda. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting a “mid-course” review of the initiative.

Satcher said he was encouraged by such awareness and told listeners not to lose hope.

“If you’re serious about the elimination of health disparities, you have to persist and persevere,” he said.

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