Op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun, June 3, 2018, written by Dr. Nicky Mehtani, resident physician at Johns Hopkins, and NPA 2018 Copello Health Advocacy Fellow.
“Doc… why did she die?”
I had been faced with this question before, but was utterly unprepared to answer it this time, when it was asked by the 16-year-old grandson of my former patient in the cardiac intensive care unit. A long 5 seconds passed before I gathered my words.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. Your grandmother suffered from a heart attack, one of the most severe we’ve ever seen.”
While I had not lied, the real answer to his question was far more complex. But, in medical school, they never teach us how to tell our patients or their grieving family members that an “inability to afford medications” is a possible — if not common — cause of death. Neither does the Maryland Department of Health allow us to list “inability to pay” as a cause of death on death certificates.
Yet, in this patient’s case, there was no truer underlying cause of death than the blatant unaffordability of her prescription medications…
Link to Baltimore Sun to read full op-ed