Book Review: Bringing Human Values to Healthcare Reform

I just published my first book review on Amazon! I will be periodically reviewing books that are relevant to the topics discussed in the Being Fully Human blog. The following review highlights Gerald Arbuckle’s Humanizing Healthcare Reforms, published in 2013.

Bringing Human Values to Healthcare Reform

Gerald Arbuckle writes from a truly international perspective, as a New Zealander, educated at Cambridge University in the UK, living in Sydney Australia, and having served as an organizational consultant in the US, Canada, and Australia. He trained as a social anthropologist and brings an understanding of how culture shapes values, beliefs and actions and he applies this knowledge to contextualize motivations in healthcare systems. His description of different models of healthcare illuminates the roots of the debates around healthcare reform. He describes the traditional (mainly indigenous) model of healthcare and the foundational model (based on equity, compassion, mercy and social justice) as both including a holistic approach, a sense of social and spiritual context and the valuing of interpersonal elements of relationship. In contrast, he describes the biomedical model and economic rationalist models as being focused on numbers and objectivity, and reducing therapeutic interactions to factors that can be counted, measured and economically valued. With an understanding of the different values of these different models, it can easily be seen why patients, doctors, healthcare professionals, third-party payors and government agencies have different priorities based upon the model of healthcare that they hold primary.

With the perspective gained through understanding that these models of care have different values and priorities, Arbuckle brings his understanding of the role of culture and how it can support or inhibit healthcare reform. He argues that the values of the foundational model of healthcare must be re-invigorated to counter-balance reforms based on biomedical or economic principles. In short, Arbuckle argues for including humanitarian values in discussions around healthcare cost and science.

I found Arbuckle’s conceptualizations quite useful in my own writing for my forthcoming book, “Re-humanizing Medicine.” He presents a well-reasoned argument from an anthropological perspective, which is not often heard in contemporary medicine. He champions human values amidst debates regarding cost and technology in medicine. His book provides a useful sociocultural context for the kinds of healthcare reform called for by doctors such as Robin Youngson, whose book, “Time to Care,” calls for greater compassion in healthcare. Arbuckle provides a great conceptual template as well as an inspirational call for leadership in healthcare that is collaborative and transformative.