2005 Lambaréné Fellow Ted Lord with Jess, his patient from the Schweitzer Hospital.

2005 Lambaréné Fellow Ted Lord with Jess, his patient from the Schweitzer Hospital.

As the national debate over health care reform rages, we’re asking Schweitzer Fellows and Fellows for Life — who are working directly with the populations whose needs are unmet under our current health care system — to weigh in.



Today, we talk with 2005 Lambaréné Fellow Charles (Ted) Lord. The year after his return from Lambaréné, he graduated from Harvard Medical School, and then did a few years of a general surgery residency. He’s now a resident in anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he continues to pursue his interest in health service in poor countries by focusing on the role of improved perioperative care as part of improved access to safe surgery.

Do you think the structure of our health care system needs to be changed, in order to truly address, reduce, and ultimately eliminate health disparities? How so? 

Yes.  From my perspective, the U.S. does not even have a health care system, but a relatively ineffectual and wasteful patchwork of mini-systems designed for various purposes over time.  The problem is that we have not decided, as a nation, that health care really matters.  

The resources and expertise exist.  If three immediate changes could be made to reduce health disparities, I would want them to be: 

  • establishing a primary care system available to all regardless of age or employment;
  • a national electronic medical record; and
  • curbing the interests of groups (insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies)

The lack of these changes is both an obstacle to reform as well as an important cause for the colossal waste of valuable resources.  

What is the single most important issue meaningful health care reform needs to address?  

Coverage.  It must be for every citizen. 

From your personal experience, is there a certain specific anecdote that best illustrates what’s broken about our health care system? 

Every emergency room is a case series of what is wrong with health care in the United States.  Most of what I’ve cared for in the ED is the result of a “system” that allows, even seems to encourage, long-simmering issues to mushroom into an acute, expensive, and needless crisis: recurrent abscesses from IV drug use, to waiting 10 hours to have your now acute hemorrhoid after not being able to see a doctor about it for 5 years, to people near diabetic coma because their insurance was dropped and they have no medication. 

Are you encouraged or discouraged by the current political conversations about health care reform? Why? 

Guardedly encouraged.  The fact that it is being discussed in detail is meaningful after over a decade of ignoring the worsening crisis.  We need to let go of the falsehood that “America has the best healthcare system in the world,” which is repeated daily but demonstrably false.