Picture this: two patients are wheeled into the Emergency Room at the same time. Both are having heart attacks and both need an angioplasty -- a procedure to unblock a coronary artery. When it comes to heart attacks, the faster you unblock the artery, the better for the patient. The hospital can only treat one patient at a time. So, how do you decide who goes first? Flip of the coin? Skill testing question? Tough choice, huh?
Now, suppose I tell you one patient is 42 years old and the other is 92. Does that make your choice any easier?
If you said yes, I know at least one geriatrician who calls that age discrimination.
In less than 3 years, the oldest of an estimated 10 million baby boomers will turn 65, and scenarios like the one I posed will become commonplace. Some are calling the coming avalanche of boomers a 'silver tsunami.' The people we talked to think calling it a 'tsunami' or an avalanche is quite an overstatement. Still, if the system is under stress now, it's likely to get worse in the coming years.
This week on White Coat, Black Art, we examine how the system deals with aging patients. And, we explore the line between age appropriate treatment and ageism. Cardiologist and researcher Dr. David Alter talks about a study which demonstrated that age discrimination exists in the health care system...though in practice he finds it's a lot more complicated than that. And, we have a provocative, interview with Dr. Janice Lessard, a Geriatrician who points out many of the casual, almost unconscious ways that people on the front lines practice age discrimination.
The show airs Monday April 7 at 1130 am and Friday April 11 at 8 pm (half an hour later in Newfoundland), on CBC Radio One.
In the meantime, we have a little treat for you. Usually, White Coat, Black Art shies away from medical news you can use. But I want you to listen to a conversation I had with Carol Kushner, a health policy consultant and co-author of two national bestsellers on what ails the health care system, Strong Medicine and Second Opinion. Kushner gives some very practical advice on how to keep seniors healthier, longer. And it mostly involves keeping them out of the health care system.