Reviews Book

Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business & Bad Medicine

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 06 January 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:99
  1. David Woods (, chief executive officer
  1. Healthcare Media International, Philadelphia

    These authors may have won a couple of the highly respected Pulitzer prizes, but their journalistic style owes more to the newspaper proprietor the prize is named for. Towards the end of the 19th century Joseph Pulitzer's New York World engaged in cut-throat competition with William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, each trying to outdo the other in sensationalism, emotional exploitation of news, and what became known as “yellow journalism.”

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    Donald L Barlett, James B Steele

    Doubleday, $24.95, pp 268 ISBN 0 385 50454 3 Also available as an ebook, $17.95

    Rating: Graphic

    Critical Condition, with its litany of horror anecdotes, hyperbole, and frequent distortions, is more in that mode. “Everywhere there is unease,” the authors write, while contributing to it themselves by citing numerous examples of the US healthcare system failing individual patients. Take, for example, the retired seam-stress whose gallstones were diagnosed but whom the hospital refused to treat because she was uninsured. Retired? If she was over 65 she would have been covered by Medicare; if in poverty, by Medicaid.

    US drug companies spend some $3bn a year advertising their prescription products directly to the consumers

    And yes, it's a national disgrace …

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