Two Washington University medical students have written a handbook to help other medical students understand the American health-care system.
To their surprise, they've learned the manual is attracting lay people as well as other health professionals.
The authors are Elisabeth Askin, 28, of Waco, Texas, who is a third-year med student, and Nathan Moore, 26, of Oklahoma City, a fourth-year med student.
Their project started about two years ago when Dr. William Peck, director of the Washington University Center for Health Policy, visited the medical school to deliver a talk on American health care policy.
"It was really over our heads," Moore said. "Most medical schools don't really teach about economics or policy and delivery."
In response, Moore and other medical students formed a group to bring in more speakers on health care policy.
Askin began her first year of medical school as Moore began his second. She heard of the group and got involved.
"We brought in experts. So we thought we'd print off some background information for medical students," Askin said. "We couldn't find anything."
Moore said, "I think we were both surprised that there wasn't something like this already."
So the two decided to do a book themselves.
They worked on the project together "for no other reason we were passionate about it and had a lot of things in common," Moore said.
Askin said, "It gives us an interesting perspective because it's for people who want to know what we want to know. We're more connected than someone who has been in the field for 30 years."
The research took several months. Then, in June 2011, Askin spent 10 weeks writing.
"It helps that when I first decided I was interested in medicine, I also got interested in health policy," Askin said. "I tried to read about it in the news, in some books and it was really hard to connect the dots.
"It helped that I'd done a lot of research and reading on my own."
They sent copies of the first draft to journalists, physicians, economists, friends and experts.
As the manuscript got passed around, "The reception we got through this year is that lay audiences want this too," Askin said. "They liked the book and didn't feel it was over their heads."
Moore said, "The audience is anyone who wants to know about these things. Not someone who's already a health economist or hospital administrator, but more for people."
"Maybe it isn't their jobs but it effects their jobs and lives," Askin said.
Small grants helped them finance the book, including hiring an editor who helped with the words.
Askin decided on medical school after getting an undergraduate degree in history. She took prerequisite courses part time for a year and a half before getting into medical school.
The electronic book has been available since May. They held off on the paperback until the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on the Affordable Care Act.
"We updated the "Court Challenges" segments and the sections detailing the changes to Medicaid," he said, "to reflect the states' new option to expand eligibility or not."
They never broke stride with medical school.
"It was a rough year," Askin said. "Cut out some sleep; cut out some socializing. We had some crazy cramming nights."
On top of that, she's married, "But I have a supportive husband," she said.
They stressed writing the book in a language that could be understood, without incomprehensible verbiage, they said.
"People are busy and they're not going to sit and read a boring textbook," Askin said.
'THE GOAL IS TO HELP'
Their emphasis has apparently worked. It's at the top of the Amazon.com list of books on health-care policy topics.
And they're working with medical schools across the country to use the handbook as a text to be taught in classes.
For the future, they're working with Washington University to hand it over after they leave so future medical students can update it regularly.
"The thought is the school can have a program for students who can put out a new edition every year or two," Askin said.
"The goal is to help," she said. "It's a confusing topic. If I, Nathan, can help people understand it better, that's what we want.
"It's not a transparent system, that's for certain."
HEALTH CARE BOOK
Title • "The Health Care Handbook — A Clear and Concise Guide to the American Health Care System"
Authors • Nathan Moore and Elisabeth Askin.
Publisher • Self-published.
Pages • About 280 pages expected for the paperback.