Confronting the Uncomfortable: Health Plans and Health Disparities: A Moral Dilemma in a Morally Driven Industry

Winston F Wong, MD

Winter 2008 - Volume 12 Number 1

American medicine was traumatized when, in the 1970s, it was revealed that hundreds of African-American men were purposefully denied treatment for syphilis for decades at the Tuskegee Medical Institute.1 For two centuries, American medicine had never confronted the mythology that the practice of medicine was above the fray of power structures that reinforced the status quo.
Historically, physicians have characterized their profession as the practice of the “art of medicine.” The Hippocratic oath inspires young doctors to apply biological knowledge to comfort and to help other human beings, regardless of their background. The complexity of human interactions leads to an infinite set of outcomes and expectations and, as an “artist,” a physician works earnestly to manage conditions resulting in comfort and wellness.

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