CHESTERTOWN - Friday, the PBS television program Bill Moyers Journal aired segments of a documentary film examining perplexing aspects of the national health care crisis.
Excepts of the film, "Money-Driven Medicine," had been presented earlier on ABC's Nightline.
Local viewers were likely unaware that Bolton Landing's own Dr. Walter McConnell, a retired physician, conceived and produced the documentary.
Also, they may not have realized that a few scenes in the documentary were filmed in the Chestertown Health Center, featuring Dr. Dan Larson of parent organization Hudson Headwaters Health Network expressing his views on the health care crisis.
McConnell, who lives year-round on the shore of Lake George, is the executive producer of the documentary which details how health care in the U.S. has become expensive, is mired in bureaucracy and litigation, and has eroded the traditional doctor-patient relationship.
The documentary is headed for national release for showings in up to 14,000 theaters nationally, McConnell said Monday.
McConnell, who has personally experienced how health care has changed radically since the 1960s, said that a strong doctor-patient relationship - now threatened by the way medicine is controlled by corporations - is vital to providing effective care that promotes health.
He said Monday that the health care system in the U.S. showers money on HMO and health insurance executives and needless expenses, while offering low pay for primary-care doctors, a situation which has reduced their numbers dramatically.
The primary-care doctors are forced by this corporate-oriented medicine to provide cursory patient visitations which don't adequately protect a person's health, he said.
"We've got to get back to the old doctor-patient relationship, in which we have time to sit down together, conduct a proper exam, review a person's medical history, selectively order tests and referrals - and not order every single test because of liability," he said. "It's a matter of sharing a common bond, trusting each other and a doctor looking after a patients' wellness - keeping them healthy instead of seeing them only when they're sick."
Due to the low pay and high expenses of medical practices, medical students - who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their education - are forced to seek adequate compensation by practicing medical specialties, which earn far more than primary care practices, McConnell said.
"The essential issue and crisis in this country is we cannot have a health. system unless we have doctors - the critically important care of primary care physicians, and these are people who look after you as a total individual and coordinate your care," he said.
Bill Moyers has offered praise for McConnell's film.
"Money-Driven Medicine is one of the strongest documentaries I have seen in years and could not be more timely," he said in a review.
McConnell's idea for the documentary grew out of his long-standing frustrations how health care in the U.S. was evolving, with corporations exerting ever more control.
He started out his career as a school physician, then launched his own private family practice in New Jersey which performed everything from providing sutures to delivering babies, he said.
Later, when the practice included more doctors and its focus changed, McConnell moved on to become chief of an emergency care center at Dover Hospital. But when two Dover hospitals merged, the corporations destroyed the practice, he said, and he retired in 1996.
But during his last year at the hospital, investigative reporter Doug Campbell of the Philadelphia Inquirer contacted him and wanted to write an article about McConnell and his work in organizing an ascent of Mt. Everest - contrasted with the challenges McConnell routinely faced in the hospital's emergency wing.
The writer authored a lengthy, prominent article, and he and McConnell later collaborated on writing a book - Malignant Decisions - a novel that describes problems in the health care system including its exorbitant cost, and how doctors are increasingly losing control to corporations over medical decision-making. McConnell sent a copy of the book to a friend, a former medical student, who had become a filmmaker. The connection led to McConnell networking with Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who ended up producing Money-Driven Medicine, based on a book written by Maggie Mahar - and McConnell's research and experience.
In about 1997, McConnell - who had vacationed in Bolton since 1964 - moved to live full-time on the shore of Lake George. At this point, he worked about four years in Glens Falls Hospital's Emergency Care Center. In about 2000, he began working primarily on the documentary.
McConnell's considerable experience convinced him that more and more people were using Emergency Care as an inadequate substitute for a primary-care doctor. When people depend solely on emergency care, he and other providers say, they put their health at risk due to lack of follow-up. But the lack of resources and the shortage of primary-care doctors, he said, compels many to be treated in emergency centers. In New York State, an emergency center must treat anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. However, although the ranks of the uninsured are growing, emergency care centers have declined in number - 10 percent over the last five years - due to hospital closures, he said.
McConnell knew Larson from Glens Falls Hospital, and he shared his observations with Larson and other Hudson Headwaters officials, who have for years sounded the alarm over the ailing health care and reimbursement system and the spiraling shortage of primary care doctors.
McConnell said Monday he supports the concept of Hudson Headwaters operations and how they reach out to those of low income. Also, he admires their "medical home" pilot initiative - supported by state Health Commissioner Richard Daines - in which HHHN is enhancing the coordination of care for patients and boosting follow-up contacts, and the state is boosting reimbursements accordingly.
McConnell said that fixing the health care system is not easy, and a government plan that would thrust many more patients into clinics or emergency rooms - without boosting the ranks of primary care physicians - is no solution.
McConnell said it is vital that people be informed and express their opinion to their legislators.
He suggested people go to his website, www.moneydrivenmedicine.org, as a first stop.
There, people can express their opinions, he said, and all responses will be forwarded to legislators or health care planners. He said his group is in direct contact with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who is seeking to fix primary care, but also to keep entrepreneurship involved.
Available on the website are a summary of the documentary's findings and reviews of the film.
Also, he and Larson can be found on YouTube, in several presentations of their observations and views.