Cornell University Press

The culture and politics of health care work

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The culture and politics of health care work

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Achieving Access

Professional Movements and the Politics of Health Universalism

Joseph Harris

At a time when the world’s wealthiest nations struggle to make health care and medicine available to everyone, why do resource-constrained countries make costly commitments to universal health coverage and AIDS treatment after transitioning to democracy? Joseph Harris explores the dynamics that made landmark policies possible in Thailand and Brazil but which have led to prolonged struggle and contestation in South Africa. Drawing on firsthand accounts of the people wrestling with these issues, Achieving Access documents efforts to institutionalize universal healthcare and expand access to life-saving medicines in three major industrializing countries.

In comparing two separate but related policy areas, Harris finds that democratization empowers elite professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, to advocate for universal health care and treatment for AIDS. Harris’s analysis is situated at the intersection of sociology, political science, and public health and will speak to scholars with interests in health policy, comparative politics, social policy, and democracy in the developing world. In light of the growing interest in health insurance generated by implementation of the Affordable Care Act (as well as the coming changes poised to be made to it), Achieving Access will also be useful to policymakers in developing countries and officials working on health policy in the United States.

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The Big Squeeze

A Social and Political History of the Controversial Mammogram

by Handel Reynolds

In 2009, an influential panel of medical experts ignited a controversy when they recommended that most women should not begin routine mammograms to screen for breast cancer until the age of fifty, reversing guidelines they had issued just seven years before when they recommended forty as the optimal age to start getting mammograms. While some praised the new recommendation as sensible given the smaller benefit women under fifty derive from mammography, many women's groups, health care advocates, and individual women saw the guidelines as privileging financial considerations over women's health and a setback to decades-long efforts to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer.

In The Big Squeeze, Dr. Handel Reynolds, a practicing radiologist, notes that this episode was only the most recent controversy in the turbulent history of mammography since its introduction in the early 1970s. In a book written for the millions of women who face the decision about whether to get a mammogram, health professionals interested in cancer screening, and public health policymakers, Reynolds shows how pivotal decisions made during mammography's initial launch made it all but inevitable that the test would be contentious. He describes how, at several key points in its history, the emphasis on mammography screening as a fundamental aspect of women's preventive health care coincided with social and political developments, from the women's movement in the early 1970s to breast cancer activism in the 1980s and '90s.

At the same time, aggressive promotion of mammography made the screening tool the cornerstone of a huge new industry. Taking a balanced approach to this much-disputed issue, Reynolds addresses both the benefits and risks of mammography, charting debates, for example, that have weighed the early detection of aggressively malignant tumors against unnecessary treatments resulting from the identification of slow-growing and non-life-threatening cancers. The Big Squeeze, ultimately, helps to evaluate the ongoing public health controversies surrounding mammography and provides a clear understanding of how mammography achieved its current primacy in cancer screening.

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The Caring Self

The Work Experiences of Home Care Aides

by Clare L. Stacey

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 1.7 million home health aides and personal and home care aides in the United States as of 2008. These home care aides are rapidly becoming the backbone of America's system of long-term care, and their numbers continue to grow. Often referred to as frontline care providers or direct care workers, home care aides-disproportionately women of color-bathe, feed, and offer companionship to the elderly and disabled in the context of the home. In The Caring Self, Clare L. Stacey draws on observations of and interviews with aides working in Ohio and California to explore the physical and emotional labor associated with the care of others.

Aides experience material hardships-most work for minimum wage, and the services they provide are denigrated as unskilled labor-and find themselves negotiating social norms and affective rules associated with both family and work. This has negative implications for workers who struggle to establish clear limits on their emotional labor in the intimate space of the home. Aides often find themselves giving more, staying longer, even paying out of pocket for patient medications or incidentals; in other words, they feel emotional obligations expected more often of family members than of employees. However, there are also positive outcomes: some aides form meaningful ties to elderly and disabled patients. This sense of connection allows them to establish a sense of dignity and social worth in a socially devalued job. The case of home care allows us to see the ways in which emotional labor can simultaneously have deleterious and empowering consequences for workers.

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The Challenge to Change

Reforming Health Care on the Front Line in the United States and the United Kingdom

by Rebecca Kolins Givan

There is constant pressure on hospitals to improve health care delivery and increase cost effectiveness. New initiatives are the order of the day in the dramatically different health care systems of the United States and Great Britain. Often, as we know all too well, these efforts are not successful. In The Challenge to Change, Rebecca Kolins Givan analyzes the successes and failures of efforts to improve hospitals and explains what factors make it likely that the implementation of reforms will be rewarded by positive transformation in a particular institution's day-to-day operation. Givan's in-depth qualitative case studies of both top-down initiatives and changes first suggested by staff on the front lines of care point clearly to the importance of all hospital workers in effecting change and even influencing national policy.

Givan illuminates the critical role of workers, managers, and unions in enabling or constraining changes in policies and procedures and ensuring their implementation. Givan spotlights an Anglo-American model of hospital care and work organization, even while these countries retain their differences in access and payment. Entrenched professional roles, hierarchical workplace organization, and the sometimes-detached view of policymakers all shape the prospects for change in hospitals. Givan provides important examples of how the dedication and imagination of the people who work in hospitals can make all the difference when it comes to providing quality health care even in a challenging economic environment.

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The Changing Face of Medicine

Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care in America

by Ann K. Boulis and Jerry A. Jacobs

The number of women practicing medicine in the United States has grown steadily since the late 1960s, with women now roughly at parity with men among entering medical students. Why did so many women enter American medicine? How are women faring, professionally and personally, once they become physicians? Are women transforming the way medicine is practiced?

To answer these questions, The Changing Face of Medicine draws on a wide array of sources, including interviews with women physicians and surveys of medical students and practitioners. The analysis is set in the twin contexts of a rapidly evolving medical system and profound shifts in gender roles in American society.

Throughout the book, Ann K. Boulis and Jerry A. Jacobs critically examine common assumptions about women in medicine. For example, they find that women's entry into medicine has less to do with the decline in status of the profession and more to do with changes in women's roles in contemporary society. Women physicians' families are becoming more and more like those of other working women. Still, disparities in terms of specialty, practice ownership, academic rank, and leadership roles endure, and barriers to opportunity persist. Along the way, Boulis and Jacobs address a host of issues, among them dual-physician marriages, specialty choice, time spent with patients, altruism versus materialism, and how physicians combine work and family.

Women's presence in American medicine will continue to grow beyond the 50 percent mark, but the authors question whether this change by itself will make American medicine more caring and more patient centered. The future direction of the profession will depend on whether women doctors will lead the effort to chart a new course for health care delivery in the United States.

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Changing the Course of AIDS

Peer Education in South Africa and Its Lessons for the Global Crisis

Changing the Course of AIDS is an in-depth evaluation of a new and exciting way to create the kind of much-needed behavioral change that could affect the course of the global health crisis of HIV/AIDS. This case study from the South African HIV/AIDS epidemic demonstrates that regular workers serving as peer educators can be as-or even more-effective agents of behavioral change than experts who lecture about the facts and so-called appropriate health care behavior.

After spending six years researching the response of large South African companies to the epidemic that is decimating their workforce as well as South African communities, David Dickinson describes the promise of this grassroots intervention-workers educating one another in the workplace and community-and the limitations of traditional top-down strategies. Dickinson's book takes us right into the South African workplace to show how effective and yet enormously complex peer education really is. We see what it means when workers directly tackle the kinds of sexual, gender, religious, ethnic, and broader social and political taboos that make behavior change so difficult, particularly when that behavior involves sex and sexuality.

Dickinson's findings show that people who are not officially health care experts or even health care workers can be skilled and effective educators. In this book we see why peer education has so much to offer societies grappling with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and why those interested in changing behaviors to ameliorate other health problems like obesity, alcoholism, and substance abuse have so much to learn from the South African example.

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Circles of Exclusion

The Politics of Health Care in Israel

In its early years, Israel's dominant ideology led to public provision of health care for all Jewish citizens-regardless of their age, income, or ability to pay. However, the system has shifted in recent decades, becoming increasingly privatized and market-based. In a familiar paradox, the wealthy, the young, and the healthy have relatively easy access to health care, and the poor, the old, and the very sick confront increasing obstacles to medical treatment.

In Circles of Exclusion, Dani Filc, both a physician and a human rights activist, forcefully argues that in present-day Israel, equal access to health care is constantly and systematically thwarted by a regime that does not extend an equal level of commitment to the well-being of all residents of Israel, whether Jewish, Israeli Palestinians, migrant workers, or Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Filc explores how Israel's adoption of a neoliberal model has pushed the system in a direction that gives priority to the strongest and richest individuals and groups over the needs of society as a whole, and to profit and competition over care.

Filc pays special attention to the repercussions of policies that define citizenship in a way that has serious consequences for the health of groups of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens-particularly the Bedouins in the unrecognized villages-and to the ways in which this structure of citizenship affects the health of migrant workers. The health care situation is even more dire in the Occupied Territories, where the Occupation, especially in the last two decades, has negatively affected access to medical care and the health of Palestinians. Filc concludes his book with a discussion of how human rights, public health, and economic imperatives can be combined to produce a truly equal health care system that provides high-quality services to all Israelis.

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Cleaning Up

How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients

by Dan Zuberi

To cut costs and maximize profits, hospitals in the United States and many other countries are outsourcing such tasks as cleaning and food preparation to private contractors. In Cleaning Up, the first book to examine this transformation in the healthcare industry, Dan Zuberi looks at the consequences of outsourcing from two perspectives: its impact on patient safety and its role in increasing socioeconomic inequality. Drawing on years of field research in Vancouver, Canada as well as data from hospitals in the U.S. and Europe, he argues that outsourcing has been disastrous for the cleanliness of hospitals—leading to an increased risk of hospital-acquired infections, a leading cause of severe illness and death—as well as for the effective delivery of other hospital services and the workers themselves.

Zuberi’s interviews with the low-wage workers who keep hospitals running uncover claims of exposure to near-constant risk of injury and illness. Many report serious concerns about the quality of the work due to understaffing, high turnover, poor training and experience, inadequate cleaning supplies, and on-the-job injuries. Zuberi also presents policy recommendations for improving patient safety by reducing the risk of hospital-acquired infection and ameliorating the work conditions and quality of life of hospital support workers. He makes the case that hospital outsourcing exemplifies the trend towards “low-road” service-sector jobs that threatens to undermine society’s social health, as well as the physical health and well-being of patients in health care settings globally.

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Differential Diagnoses

A Comparative History of Health Care Problems and Solutions in the United States and France

by Paul V. Dutton

Although the United States spends 16 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, more than 46 million people have no insurance coverage, while one in four Americans report difficulty paying for medical care. Indeed, the U.S. health care system, despite being the most expensive health care system in the world, ranked thirty-seventh in a comprehensive World Health Organization report. With health care spending only expected to increase, Americans are again debating new ideas for expanding coverage and cutting costs. According to the historian Paul V. Dutton, Americans should look to France, whose health care system captured the World Health Organization's number-one spot.

In Differential Diagnoses, Dutton debunks a common misconception among Americans that European health care systems are essentially similar to each other and vastly different from U.S. health care. In fact, the Americans and the French both distrust "socialized medicine." Both peoples cherish patient choice, independent physicians, medical practice freedoms, and private insurers in a qualitatively different way than the Canadians, the British, and many others. The United States and France have struggled with the same ideals of liberty and equality, but one country followed a path that led to universal health insurance; the other embraced private insurers and has only guaranteed coverage for the elderly and the very poor.

How has France reconciled the competing ideals of individual liberty and social equality to assure universal coverage while protecting patient and practitioner freedoms? What can Americans learn from the French experience, and what can the French learn from the U.S. example? Differential Diagnoses answers these questions by comparing how employers, labor unions, insurers, political groups, the state, and medical professionals have shaped their nations' health care systems from the early years of the twentieth century to the present day.

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Divining without Seeds

The Case for Strengthening Laboratory Medicine in Africa

by Iruka N. Okeke

Infectious disease is the most common cause of illness and death in Africa, yet health practitioners routinely fail to identify causative microorganisms in most patients. As a result, patients often do not receive the right medicine in time to cure them promptly even when such medicine is available, outbreaks are larger and more devastating than they should be, and the impact of control interventions is difficult to measure. Wrong prescriptions and prolonged infections amount to needless costs for patients and for health systems. In Divining without Seeds, Iruka N. Okeke forcefully argues that laboratory diagnostics are essential to the effective practice of medicine in Africa.

The diversity of endemic life-threatening infections and limited public health resources in tropical Africa make the need for basic laboratory diagnostic support even more acute than in other parts of the world. This book gathers compelling case studies of inadequate diagnoses of diseases ranging from fevers-including malaria-to respiratory infections and sexually transmitted diseases. The inherited and widely prevalent health clinic model, which excludes or diminishes the hospital laboratory, is flawed, to often devastating effect. Fortunately, there are new technologies that make it possible to inexpensively implement testing at the primary care level. Divining without Seeds makes clear that routine use of appropriate diagnostic support should be part of every drug delivery plan in Africa and that diagnostic development should be given high priority.

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