The healthcare system in the United States has been in a state of change and narrowly averted collapse for some years now, and The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care by Joseph Q. Jarvis MD, MSPH provides both a professional and personal perspective on this critical issue.
Attempting to parse the ever-changing landscape of American healthcare is challenging, and forming a clear, comprehensive picture of the options, loopholes, tax ramifications and benefits is nearly impossible. Jarvis begins by establishing the crisis facing America, making his political stance known in the opening of this book, but fortunately, this is not a 200-page rant about one party’s missteps when it comes to healthcare. Instead, Jarvis takes readers through his own life and medical practice, giving most of this book the feel of a intimate, but intentional memoir.
From specific patient anecdotes to larger existential crises he has faced throughout his career, Jarvis illuminates the severe failings of our medical system in comparison to the rest of the world, but does so through heartbreaking, frustrating and viscerally affecting examples. One point that sticks out in particular is the fact that only 1% of the funds spend on healthcare go to public health services, despite that being where the majority of major community health achievements are made. These small, memorable points from the author tie the personal stories together, and link them back to the much larger and more relatable issues for readers.
By structuring it in this form, and sharing stories from all over dealing with people from different types of socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, the biases and unfair practices implicit in the system are hard to miss. Reading news articles or economic analyses of healthcare options, it is easy to forget about the people behind the numbers, but Jarvis brings these personal tragedies to the fore. He is also an excellent storyteller, which is how this book can truly act as a bridge for people of different viewpoints.
That said, he does occasionally paint with a broad brush, and some of the generalizations he makes about previous healthcare systems are based on opinion, rather than demonstrable fact. While Jarvis does have a vast range of experience, he hasn’t practiced in every state, nor does he have a completely reliable finger on the pulse of public opinion around the country. If hi’s intention is to appeal to both sides of the aisle, the argument for change must be founded in unbiased truth. The references and materials Jarvis includes are helpful, and the book is mostly well-executed, but less reliance on opinion could strengthen his argument.
All in all, The Purple World is a unique and inspiring story of a medical professional who has stood on the front lines of the healthcare crisis in America. Most importantly, the book presents some viable solutions that could carry the country forward in a healthy, sustainable, and more humane way. Wherever you fall in this debate, there is much to be learned from the author’s perspective and experiences.