One doc’s review of EscapeFire: It had drama, pathos, irony, and the graphics were good too!

This weekend, moviegoers can choose the traditional Hollywood action move Taken 2, Tim Burton’s claymation treat, Frankenweenie, or a documentary about healthcare reform. Just in time for election season.

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare looks at the big problems in healthcare, everything from physicians’ fees, pain management, profits vs. patient care, diabetes, fast food, and the healthcare industry’s lobby.

Directed by Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke, the title is borrowed from a speech by Dr. Don Berwick before he took over as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and later released as a manifesto on lessons for the future of healthcare. It’s based on a a lifesaving tactic used by a smokejumper in a 1949 wildfire in which a fire was set to avoid the danger of a larger fire in a grassland or forest. One man, Wagner Dodge, came up with the idea, but his colleagues didn’t trust his judgment to their peril. Dodge was the only survivor

In a review of the film on his blog, Dr. David Nash, the founding Dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia said it highlights some of the absurdities of the healthcare system and the way some patients approached their interaction with caregivers.


It featured in depth interviews and “on air” conversations with the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, with Don Berwick, and with real caregivers on the frontlines of medicine as well. It had drama, pathos, irony, and the graphics were good too!!

A central themes of the film is that the business of healthcare has not been tied closely enough to healthy outcomes. One line from the trailer is “We are in the grip of a very big industry and it doesn’t want to stop making money.”

Interestingly, American Public Media business and finance program Marketplace points out that one of the film’s surprising backers is a man who made a whole lot of money from the healthcare business — Clayton McWhorter, a former executive with Hospital Corporation of America.

The film doesn’t let individuals off the hook either. A First Aid kit on the film’s website touches on ways individuals can help improve their healthcare. A catalog of health apps covering doctors appointment scheduling (ZocDoc) to calorie counters and fitness are included.There’s a link to a checklist of what to do to prepare for a doctor’s appointment. Another program highlights a program at Johns Hopkins University tackling the problem of overweight doctors. Another tool is a card highlighting the most frequently prescribed tests as a way of reducing potential waste and encouraging more informed conversations between doctors and patients. It’s good to have an informed understanding of why a particular procedure is needed, but where the conversation goes from there between the patient and doctor is tough to say. At what point should a patient agree or turn down a doctor’s recommendation? The card doesn’t say.

Summing up the film Heineman said:

Our goal with ESCAPE FIRE is to provoke a paradigm shift in how our country views health and healing. We hope audiences will come away with a clearer understanding of how and why our system is broken, the barriers to change, and potential solutions, or “escape fires,” that could help fix our system.

Escape Fire opens today.

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