In 2006, my sister was treated for Stage IV melanoma at the University of Washington Medical Center. It was a difficult treatment regimen, ultimately unsuccessful at extending her life, but I felt comfortable she received excellent care from the physicians and nursing staff there.
Fran’s case was challenging as the cancer was spreading fast. I knew from the many conversations we had with doctors that several people, including her hometown dermatologist, were involved in her care and tracking her case.
Fran’s case was in the back of my mind when I read the news about the PeaceHealth/University of Washington deal, which was positioned as a “groundbreaking, strategic affiliation.” Digging deeper, it appears that for patients, the chief advantage is that PeaceHealth and UW will stay coordinated on patient care and records transfers.
If that’s truly what the deal is about, then my reaction to the news is: Of course, you should coordinate on patient care issues and, because the UW doctors are world class experts in many critical care specialities, it makes sense that PeaceHealth patients would be seen at UW for advanced care. But a careful coordination of patient records shouldn’t be limited to PeaceHealth patients. All patients seen at the UW should expect that their case histories and records will be seamlessly transferred from their “hometown” doctors to the UW and back again.
And a seamless transfer of records shouldn’t be positioned as a major deal, unless that type of record transfer was lacking previously. And if it was, that’s an internal records management issue – a problem to be solved, but hardly worthy of positioning as a “groundbreaking, strategic affiliation” between two entities with “shared values.”
There must be something else to the UW/PeaceHealth deal. Otherwise, why would the UW and PeaceHealth announce it with such fanfare.
Ah, here it is: In many rural communities throughout Washington, hospital administrators and hospital district commissioners are effectively deciding which health care networks to join for the care that will be delivered to local citizens. PeaceHealth wants that business. The more that PeaceHealth and UW are viewed as tightly aligned, the greater the chance that hospital officials can overlook the fact that PeaceHealth restricts essential medical services for religious reasons. PeaceHealth is “borrowing” the UW’s reputation for secular, unrestricted care to convince administrators and district commissioners and community activists to ignore the fact that essential services, including important reproductive and end-of-life services, will not be provided at PeaceHealth.
That’s scary enough. But when you dive into the details a bit more, UW and PeaceHealth are also going to be working more closely together on clinical training programs, especially primary care, for UW medical students and residents.
Perhaps the UW is unaware that PeaceHealth follows the bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care and requires that those directives be followed in all of its facilities. This means that UW students will be bound by Catholic directives during crucial aspects of their medical training and they will become enmeshed in a culture that believes that Catholic doctrine is an intrinsic part of appropriate medical care.
That should scare and motivate all Washington citizens who care about the separation of Church and State and who believe that UW’s medical training should be guided by the best practices of the medical profession and not by doctrine or clerics.
As the NY Times recently reported, “If you go to a Catholic medical institution, you’re going to get medical advice that is in keeping with the moral norms of that institution,” Father Weinandy said. “We think Catholic medical advice is the best medical advice to give.”
The Religious Directives document puts it even more assertively: “The professional-patient relationship is never separated, then, from the Catholic identity of the health care institution.”