Jan. 25, 2002
Volume XXXV, No. 4


Promotions and Tenure

Who's New


Ferrer comments on health care trend in JAMA


A San Antonio girl is sent home from school with "pink eye." The school administration said it would not readmit her without a doctor's note, but her parents couldn't afford to take her to a physician. The girl sat at home for two weeks before her parents were able to save enough money for medical care.

The child is not alone. Approximately 360,000 San Antonians live without health insurance. They are trapped in the national health care "system of no-system," a disturbing socioeconomic cycle that leaves the neediest patients without access to medical care.

"We have not had a system of health care in the United States in the sense that almost all other industrialized countries have," said Dr. Robert Ferrer, assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine. "Our non-system's harmful effects on the uninsured are growing more systematized due to trends such as increasing numbers of uninsured patients and economic strains that erode 'safety net' health care systems."

Dr. Ferrer highlights the crisis in his article "Within the System of No-System." His work is published in the Nov. 28 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Dr. Ferrer works with other UTHSC faculty treating patients at the University Health Center-Downtown Acute Care Clinic. His waiting room holds 228 people and caters to a large crowd each day.

"We act as one of the 'safety net' providers," Dr. Ferrer said. "Unfortunately, the problem is difficult to solve locally because communities with people who are uninsured and live in poverty cannot cope on their own with the economics of rising health care costs and growing numbers of uninsured patients."

Dr. Ferrer said state and federal governments need to implement new policies to address the problem, while doctors must be empathetic and aware of the difficult situation uninsured patients face each time they need medical care.

"I'd like my students to remember that not having insurance is frequently only one aspect of poverty and that people living in poverty face barriers such as long waits, trouble paying for services and navigating bureaucracies in many spheres of their lives," Dr. Ferrer said. "But to the extent that we can rehumanize the process by showing extra courtesy and care, we improve our ability to heal."