Sagar to speak on ‘spiritual malaise’ of health systems



Sickness within the health care system doesn’t stay inside the walls of a patient’s room, said Dr. Stephen Sagar. The entire system is ill, and Sagar believes the cause is a lack of compassion.

Sagar, a radiation oncologist and professor of oncology at Canada’s McMaster University, will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy in an Interfaith Lecture on the spiritual malaise plaguing health care systems.

“Spiritual malaise” refers to apathy in health care, he said, a lack of a patient-centered approach in a system consumed more with financial and profit outcomes than patient satisfaction.

“Health care systems in many countries are in themselves becoming very sick,” Sagar said. “They are basically dominated by profiteering.”

Managed health care is expensive, he said. This tends to result in a bureaucratic system taking much-needed money away from nurses and physicians and focusing instead on profit.

This restricts the freedom of physicians to practice how they think is best, leading to “sickness” among medical staff.

“Quite frankly, they lose the ability to care,” Sagar said, “and that’s an illness in itself.”

In a hierarchical system in which medical practitioners are managed by those more concerned with profit than with patient well-being, resources are allocated poorly.

For example, pharmaceutical companies can produce oncology drugs that extend life by one month, Sagar said, and they can cost $100,000 per month. But that money could be spent in other ways that would go further in treating chronic disease.

Americans need to think carefully about the direction they’d like to see health care go, Sagar said. Regarding patient treatment, the United States is currently in a rapid turnover system with temporary fixes that don’t always get to the heart of the problem. To see better patient satisfaction, he said, the spiritual malaise of health care must be taken care of.

“Is it going to be a system of much more technical interventions, like repairing your car?” he said. “Is it going to be more of an approach to long-term health and quality of life?”